Eshleman, Clayton 1935-
ESHLEMAN, Clayton 1935-
PERSONAL: Born June 1, 1935, in Indianapolis, IN; son of Ira Clayton (an engineer) and Gladys Maine (Spenser) Eshleman; married Barbara Novak, June 17, 1961 (marriage ended); married second wife, Caryl Reiter, April 28, 1970; children: (first marriage) Matthew. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Indiana University, B.A. (philosophy), 1958, M.A.T. (creative writing), 1961.
ADDRESSES: Home and offıce—210 Washtenaw Ave, Ypsilanti, MI 48197. E-mail—[email protected] net.
CAREER: University of Maryland, College Park, instructor in English, 1961-62; Matsushita Electric Corporation, Kôbe, Japan, English language and writing instructor, 1962-64; American Language Institute, New York University, New York, NY, instructor, 1966-68; Caterpillar Books, publisher, 1966-68; Caterpillar (magazine), New York, NY and Sherman Oaks, CA, publisher and editor, 1967-73; California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, member of faculty of School of Critical Studies, 1970-72; American College, Paris, France, teacher of American poetry, 1973-74; University of California, Extension Division, Los Angeles, instructor, beginning 1974; California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Dreyfuss Poet-in-Residence and lecturer in creative writing, 1979-84; visiting lecturer in creative writing at various branches of University of California, including San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, 1979-86; Sulfur (magazine), founder and editor, 1981-2000; Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, professor of English, 1986-2003, professor emeritus, 2003—.
Consultant to board of directors, Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, 1967-70; part-time employee at University of California Press, beginning 1974; three-time participant in Visiting Authors Program, USIA, Bonn, Germany, 1974-79; led tour group to Ice Agedecorated caves in southwestern France, 1981, 1983, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002; member of National Endowment for the Art's literary magazine panel and policy committee, 1983; California Arts Council literature panel member, 1984; poet-in-residence, Cranbrook Writers Conference, 1987; board member of CLMP, 1987; International Poetry Festival participant, Barcelona, 1988; visiting scholar in Hispanic studies at Brown University, 1989; summer faculty member Naropa Institute, 1992, 2000; poet-in-residence at University of Arizona's Poetry Center, 1992; five-day residence at Simon Fraser University's Institute for the Humanities, 1992, and at Poets & Writers, Rochester, 1994 and 2002; participant in films Aimé Césaire: A Voice for History, and A Tribute to Aimé Césaire, Project Black Cinema, Florida State University, 1993; seminar on Upper Paleolithic cave art for Shaman Drum Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI, 1993; readings at Rochester University, University of Notre Dame, Indiana University, SUNY-Albany, and University of Oklahoma, 1994; poetry readings at SUNY-Buffalo and Butler University, Indianapolis, 1995; poetry reading at Recovery of the Public World conference, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, 1995; three-day residencies at Naropa Institute and Wichita State University, 1996; Artaud presentations at University of Colorado, Boulder, Poets House, New York, NY, and Drawing Center, New York, NY, 1996; bilingual presentation of poetry at Maison des Ecrivans, Paris, France, 1996; participant at Festival Franco-anglais de poesie, Paris, 1997; writer-in-residence, Tennessee State University, 1999; participated in Ecrivains présent conference, University of Poitiers, Poitiers, France, 1999; featured performer, Bumbershoot Arts Festival, Seattle, 2000; seminar leader for Poetry Society of America, 2001; writer-in-residence at Dalhousie University and State University of New York—Oneonta, 2001; presenter at Associated Writing Program Conference, New Orleans, LA, 2002; writerin-residence at Macalester College, Wichita State University, University of Maine—Orono, Lakewood (Ohio) Public Library, San Diego State University, and University of Louisiana—Monroe, 2002; participant in poetry conference, National Library Mitterand, Paris, 2002. Has given poetry readings of his own works and of translations at more than four hundred schools and universities, and at the Library of Congress.
AWARDS, HONORS: Organization of American States grant, 1964-65; Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines grants for Caterpillar, 1968, 1969, 1970; National Translation Center grants, 1968, 1969; National Translation Center award for translation of Poemas Humanos, 1967; Poetry magazine award, 1968, for "Five Poems"; Fels nonfiction award, 1975; Carnegie Author's Fund award, 1977; California Arts Council grants, 1977-78; Translation Prize, PEN, 1977; Guggenheim fellowship in poetry, 1978, for research on Upper Paleolithic cave art; National Book Award in translation, 1979; poetry fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), 1979; summer stipend grant, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), 1980, for research on Upper Paleolithic cave art; translation fellowship, NEH, 1981; Witter Bynner translation grant, 1981; NEA grants, for Sulfur, 1983-96; Soros Foundation travel grant to Hungary, 1986; Cooper fellow, Swarthmore College, 1987; translation fellowship, NEA, 1988; writers grant, Michigan Arts Council, 1988; Distinguished Faculty Research/Creativity Award, Eastern Michigan University, 1989; Academic Specialist grant, USIA Mexican Translation Project, 1992; Michigan Artists award, Arts Foundation of Michigan, 1992; editorial fellowship, Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, 1992, for Sulfur; Eastern Michigan University Graduate School research grant, 1997, 1999, 2001; honorary D. Litt., State University of New York—Oneonta, 2000; Landon Translation Prize, Academy of American Poets, for Trilce; faculty research and creative activity fellowship, Eastern Michigan University, 2002, scholarship recognition, Eastern Michigan University, 2002, for Companion Spider; Alfonse X. Sabio Award for Excellent in Literary Translation, San Diego State University, 2002.
poetry and prose
Mexico and North, privately published (Tokyo, Japan), 1962.
The Chavin Illumination, La Rama Florida (Lima, Peru), 1965.
Lachrymae Mateo: Three Poems for Christmas, 1966, Caterpillar (New York, NY), 1966.
Walks, Caterpillar (New York, NY), 1967.
The Crocus Bud, Camels Coming (Reno, NV), 1967.
Cantaloups and Splendour, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1968.
Brother Stones, woodcuts by William Paden, Caterpillar (New York, NY), 1968.
T'ai, Sans Souci (Cambridge, MA), 1969.
Indiana, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1969.
The House of Ibuki, Sumac (Freemont, MI), 1969.
The House of Okumura, Weed/Flower (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1969.
The Yellow River Record, Big Venus (London, England), 1969.
A Pitch-blende, Maya Quarto (Berkeley, CA), 1969.
Altars, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1971.
The Wand, Capricorn (Santa Barbara, CA), 1971.
(Editor) A Caterpillar Anthology, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1971.
Bearings, Capricorn (Santa Barbara, CA), 1971.
The Sanjo Bridge, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1972.
The Last Judgment: For Caryl Her Thirty-firstBirthday, for the End of Her Pain, Plantin (Los Angeles, CA), 1973.
Coils, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1973.
Human Wedding, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1973.
Realignment, illustrated by Nora Jaffe, Treacle (Kingston, NY), 1974.
Aux Morts, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1974.
Grotesca, New London Pride (London, England), 1975.
Portrait of Francis Bacon, Rivelin (Sheffield, England), 1975.
The Gull Wall, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1975.
The Woman Who Saw through Paradise, Tansy (Lawrence, KS), 1976.
Cogollo, Roxbury Poetry Enterprises (Newton, MA), 1976.
The Name Encanyoned River, Treacle (Kingston, NY), 1977.
On Mules Sent from Chavin: A Journal and Poems, Galloping Dog (Swanea, Wales), 1977.
Core Meander, Black Sparrow (Santa Barbara, CA), 1977.
What She Means, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1978.
Nights We Put the Rock Together, Cadmus (Santa Barbara, CA), 1980.
Hades in Manganese, Black Sparrow (Santa Barbara, CA), 1981.
Fracture, Black Sparrow (Santa Barbara, CA), 1983.
The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960-1985, introduction by Eliot Weinberger, Black Sparrow (Santa Barbara, CA), 1986.
Hotel Cro-Magnon, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1989.
(Editor, with Edith Jarolim) Paul Blackburn, TheParallel Voyages, SUN/Gemini Press (Tucson, AZ), 1987.
Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship, Mercer & Aitchison (Los Angeles, CA), 1989.
Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose 1962-1987, edited by Caryl Eshleman, introduced by Paul Christensen, McPherson (Kingston, NY), 1989.
Under World Arrest, Black Sparrow (Santa Rosa, CA), 1994.
Nora's Roar, Rodent (Boulder, CO), 1996.
From Scratch, Black Sparrow (Santa Rosa, CA), 1998.
Erratics, Hunger Press (Rosendale, NY), 2000.
A Cosmogonic Collage: Sections I, II, & V, Canopic (Ypsilanti, MI), 2000.
Jisei, Backwoods Broadsides (Ellsworth, ME), 2000.
Companion Spider (essays), forword by Adrienne Rich, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2002.
Sweetheart, Canopic (Ypsilanti, MI), 2002.
Pablo Neruda, Residence on Earth, Amber House (Japan), 1962.
(With Denis Kelly) Aimé Césaire, State of the Union, Caterpillar (New York, NY), 1966.
César Vallejo, Seven Poems, R. Morris (Reno, NV), 1967.
César Vallejo, Human Poems, Grove (New York, NY), 1968.
Antonin Artaud, Letter to Andre Breton, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1974.
(With José Rubia Barcia) César Vallejo, Spain, TakeThis Cup from Me, Grove (New York, NY), 1974.
(With Norman Glass) Antonin Artaud, To Have Done with the Judgement of God, Black Sparrow, 1975.
(With Norman Glass) Antonin Artaud, Artaud theMomo, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1976.
(Translator, with José Rubia Barcia) César Vallejo:Battles in Spain: Five Unpublished Poems, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1978.
(With José Rubia Barcia) César Vallejo, The CompletePosthumous Poetry, University of California Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1978.
(With Norman Glass) Antonin Artaud, Four Texts, Panjandrum (Los Angeles, CA), 1982.
(With Annette Smith) Aimé Césaire, The CollectedPoetry, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1983.
Michel Deguy, Given Giving: Selected Poems, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1984.
Bernard Bador, Sea Urchin Harakiri, Panjandrum (Los Angeles, CA), 1986.
(With Annette Smith) Aimé Césaire, Lost Body, Braziller (New York, NY), 1986.
(With Annette Smith and Frantisek Galan; and editor) Conductors of the Pit: Major Works of Rimbaud, Vallejo, Césaire, Artaud, and Holan, Paragon (New York, NY), 1988.
(With Annette Smith) Aimé Césaire, Lyric andDramatic Poetry 1946-1982, introduction by A. James Arnold, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1990.
César Vallejo, Trilce, Marsilio (New York, NY), 1992, new edition, with an introduction by Américo Ferrari, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2000.
(And editor; with Bernard Bador) Antonin Artaud, Watchfiends and Rack Screams: Works from the Final Period, Exact Change (Boston, MA), 1995.
(With Annette Smith) Aimé Césaire, Notebook of aReturn to the Native Land, introduction by André Breton, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2001.
Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and theConstruction of the Underworld, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), in press.
Contributor of poetry, essays, reviews and translations to periodicals, including New Directions Annual, origin, Evergreen Review, Kenyon Review, Exquisite Corpse, Paris Review, Partisan Review, Sugar Mule, Poetry (Chicago), Antaeus, Grand Street, Conjunctions, Harpers, Parnassus, APR, Montemora, Mandorla (Mexico City), PoeSie (Paris), Tri-Quarterly, Chicago Review, Big Table, Agni, New York Times Sunday Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, and others. Also contributor to anthologies, including Wireless Imagination, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1992; American Poetry since 1950, Marsilio, 1994; Postmodern American Poetry, Norton, 1994; Masterpieces of World Literature, volume 2, Norton, 1996; The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, 1996; and Poems for the Millennium, volumes 1 and 2, University of California Press, 1995 and 1998.
Edited three issues of Folio, 1959-60. Eshleman's work has been translated and published in more than thirteen languages. Eshleman's literary archive is housed at the Archive for New Poetry, University of California, San Diego; Lilly Library, Indiana University; and Fales Library, New York University.
SIDELIGHTS: Clayton Eshleman is known for his work as a poet, an editor, and a translator, having won such awards as National Book Award and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Though born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Eshleman has traveled across the world, and has used his travel experiences to fuel his work. Walter Freed, writing for Dictionary of Literary Biography noted, "Certainly this interest in other myths and cultures reinforces his own attempt at establishing an understanding of himself in a spiritual context. . . . His poetry is a reflection of man's rootless condition."
Eshleman's early poetry was noted for having the qualities of both romanticism and realism, and also earned the reputation of pushing boundaries set on art. Freed noted that Eshleman's poetry is "significant, therefore, because it so blatantly defies a reader's sense of poetic control. . . . Like an artist in prehistory whose media were cave wall and crudely formed dye, Eshleman paints primitive, abstract word pictures whose only illumination seems to come from a flickering torch of private experience and the genuine need, on his part, to understand why he exists and for what purpose his art serves. Like the cave paintings, his poems are curious relics of mankind's primal, shared need to investigate his world and then to recreate it artistically."
In Eshleman's later titles, critics continued to pull on the mythic qualities in his work. "Certainly Eshleman's immense productivity as editor, poet, and translator binds him to the world of Prometheus. In Under World Arrest, Eshleman negotiates through this archetype demands of animality and rationality, imagination and ideology, love and sexuality," wrote Kenneth Warren, who declared in American Book Review that the 1994 poetry collection shows Eshleman's "brilliance." Warren wrote: "Eshleman's work is a dazzling attempt to restore man's capacity to understand nature as divine, demonic, and human. He has [successfully] taken a number of risks in Under World Arrest, addressing political precepts, pressuring news, scoring current events, for insights into the practice of poetry.
" "His is a poetic that demands tremendous energy and an intense desire to overcome the impossibility of containing the world in a sequence of articulated particulars. . . . Much of the poet's most powerful imagery arises from the themes of sexual metamorphosis, birth, and the efficacy of mother culture," summarized Carlos Parcelli in a Flash Point review of Under World Arrest. According to Parcelli, "Buddhism, third world nationalist movements, jazz musicians, ancient cave paintings, and the transference of sexuality all hold clues for Eshleman. Clues that will ultimately lead to a closure—to the rejection of the mediumship of words."
"Eshleman's language [owes] much to the associative leaps of surrealism, [and] is never pompous," reported a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who applauded Under World Arrest's "refreshingly bizarre array of imagery." Michael Spiering warned in the North Dakota Quarterly that "at some points [in Under World Arrest] a reader is likely to feel that aesthetic priorities have been pushed aside in order to make room for manifesto-like statements about human consciousness." Spiering further maintained that "Eshleman's dense allusions can lead to a weariness and confusion in which craftsmanship is lost." But, qualified the critic, "if Eshleman were not willing to indulge his eccentricities, a great deal of interesting work would be lost." "Eshleman's own theory [is] that he is at his best whenever he gathers together poetic 'strands' which might otherwise have gone unnoticed," informed World Literature Today contributor James McElroy, who called Under World Arrest "a singular achievement." Declaring Eshleman's work "provocative and innovative," Spiering concluded: "Those who return to Eshleman enough to become more familiar with his concerns will find that his bizarre originality offers more satisfying rewards. While some readers at first feel that Eshleman claws their face off, they may find that a better face is uncovered."
"Image is crucial to Eshleman's praxis," wrote John Olson in a American Book Review assessment of Eshleman's 1998 poetry collection, From Scratch. Olson elaborated: "Eshleman's images possess a disquieting sense of actuality, of being alive. One is tempted to think of Eshleman as the H. P. Lovecraft of post-modernist poetry. It is important, however, to keep in mind that these images are not merely for sensationalistic effect, but are symptoms of a state of mind, incarnations of psychic events. The anguish and ecstasies of an unquenchable thirst for more life, of a depth psychology based on an archetypal perspective. A movement out of ego into psyche. A movement out of the egg of circumscribed subjectivity into the timeless labyrinths of the underworld."
When speaking of the section in From Scratch that relates to painter Nora Jaffe, Olson observed: "Eshleman's writing achieves something of a verbal equivalent with the artist under discussion, edging into the personal, the autobiographical (Nora Jaffe was a close friend), then registering syllabic spurts of tongue delirium." "From Scratch is full of humor," Olson pointed out, commenting: "It seems an odd paradox that a writer like Eshleman, who has such an affinity for the macabre, also has a rich sense of humor. But he does. . . . Eshleman delights in big, goofy neologisms like 'rhinogazelgazeliongazelle,' bizarre Joycian polymorphs like 'bloodmares,' 'simmerunderoar,' 'vaginascope' and 'clitosphere,' nonsensical pun-sicles like 'the feel of noon at 3:00 a.m.,' 'In exile/within language,' and 'I can work my can't. I can can't.' Metaphors are enriched by an agglutination of surface device, assonance, half rhymes, and alliteration."
"The density of Eshleman's syntax-packed, sinewy, convulsive—incarnates the powerful muscularity of Blake's figures, particularly those anguished sinewy figures in the midst of struggle and turmoil," stated Olson towards the end of his discussion of From Scratch. The poems in From Scratch "ask the reader to redefine not only 'civilization' and 'progress' but such fundamentals as 'home' and 'self', " assessed Susan Smith Nash in a World Literature Today review that described Eshleman's poetry as "witty, abrasive, pungently earthy." "Eshleman's poems possess a heavy reliance on juxtaposition and the belief that an essential truth may emerge from the dionysiac combining of art, anthropology, poetry, and historical events," observed Nash, believing this quality to be "disconcerting."
Eshleman is also well known for his translations. He received a National Book Award in 1979 for his translation with José Rubia Barcia of The Complete Posthumous Poetry of César Vallejo. He has translated writings by such authors as Pablo Neruda, Aimé Césaire, Antonin Artaud, Michel Deguy, Bernard Bador, and Arthur Rimbaud. His translation with Annette Smith, Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry, 1939-1976 was deemed "a highly readable and reliable translation" by Peter Sabor for the Library Journal. Serge Gavronsky for the New York Times Book Review wrote that the translation was "meticulous" and that "[Eshleman and Smith] should be applauded for finding innumerable solutions" to "the difficulties of translating Mr. Césaire." Commenting on the anthology of translations titled Conductors of the Pit: Major Works of Rimbaud, Vallejo, Césaire, Artaud, Holan, a critic for Journal of Modern Literature wrote "All the translations are significantly well done." Similarly, in a review of Trilce a critic for Publishers Weekly wrote that the work is an "excellent translation of [an] extremely complex work" and "destined to become a classic."
Eshleman once told CA that William Blake, César Vallejo, Antonin Artaud, Bud Powell, and Chaim Soutine have had a powerful influence on his poetry. He said: "My poetrics are the oldest and most engaging human adventure: the emancipation of the self. I should also mention that the writings and therapy of Wilhelm Reich have played an important part in my life and thinking."
Eshleman later commented to CA: "Since 1974, at the point I discovered for myself the Upper Paleolithic painted caves in southwestern France, a significant amount of my time has gone into writing and research for a book project now finished and called Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld. This is a poet's book, based on visiting (and crawling through) some forty decorated caves in France and Spain, several many times, and balancing this 'on site' work with massive research on what has been said, photographed, and visualized about this extraordinary 20,000-year continuum. Besides reading the archeologists, I have also studied, in an Upper Paleolithic context, the writing of C. G. Jung, N. O. Brown, Weston LaBarre, James Hillman, Geza Róheim, Hans Peter Duerr, Mircea Eliade, and many others. My work attempts to go at Ice Age image-making, and its relevance to the twentieth century, via poems, prose poems, notes, essays, dreams, and lectures, i.e., to compile an anatomy comprised of many genres to match the unframed range of undifferentiated image-making which forms the floor of human imagination.
"Besides the Ice Age cave art project, translations, and writing my own poetry, I have also founded and edited Sulfur magazine." In Eshleman's introduction to the last issue of Sulfur (spring, 2000) he presented a history of the magazine, in which he stated: "The word 'sulfur' evokes the sulphur, a butterfly with black bordered orange and yellow wings. On one level, the magazine is an evolution of Caterpillar (a magazine I founded and edited twenty issues of from 1967 to 1973). On other levels, the word denotes alchemical initiational combustion, and excited or inflamed language. . . . The magazine originally appeared three times a year but became a biannual in 1988. . . . While we occasionally published a piece of fiction when it seemed appropriated, for the most part we steered clear of fiction and drama. . . . The range of Sulfur's interests in poetry, poetics, and some tangential fields, made it difficult to keep issues under two hundred pages. . . . Here were our main focuses: 1) Translations of contemporary foreign-language poets and new translations of untranslated (or poorly translated) older works. . . . 2) Archival materials—unpublished, significant writings—by earlier writers. . . . 3) The inclusion of several unknown and usually young poets in each issue. . . . 4) Commentary, including poetics, notes, and book reviews (of a polemical as well as non-disputational nature). . . . 5) Resource materials."
Eshleman also told CA: "I began to write when I was about twenty-three years old, at the same time I began to read seriously, so there has always been a constant overlapping between reading and writing, almost as if they are sides of the same coin whose center, or gravity, is experience—my experience which, as all others, in my opinion, is resolutely personal. I write mainly to understand what is happening to me and others, and to express relation or the lack of it. I think that transcendence is a mistake, and that it is much more meaningful to drill through an opaqueness than to try and go over it. I also think that it was a horrendous mistake to say that woman is the muse, and to make woman the source for art done by males. I believe that the earth is my source, and that Caryl, my wife, is my companion. I seek not to be against her, or for her, or at her, or over her, but with her.
"As for aspiring writers; believe, I say to you, in apprenticeship. Pick some mature writer or artist and force yourself to know all of his work, from beginning to end, and attempt to assimilate it, and understand why it has the power that it does to move you. Such work takes from between ten and twenty years, depending on where you are when you make such a move, and who you have picked. The denser the mature artist the more you will get out of such an association, and probably the more difficult your gains will be. University writing workshops and MFA degrees are worthless and in most cases mean that the budding artist is going to be anesthetized in chrysalis."
Clayton Eshleman contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
I was born at 10:50 a.m., Saturday, June 1, 1935, in the Methodist Hospital, in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was named Ira Clayton Eshleman, Jr., after my father, Ira Clayton Eshleman, and my grandfather Ira Joseph Eshleman. My mother, born in 1898, in Wabash, Indiana, was named Gladys Maine Spencer, her middle name having been chosen because the U.S. battleship Maine was blown up in the Havana Harbor several months before she was born. She was, until her later years, a devoted mother and housewife who sang in the church choir and introduced me to piano lessons when I was six years old. My father, born in 1895, in Wakarusa, Indiana, graduated from Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1918. During the years that I knew him, until retirement he was in charge of time-and-motion study at Kingan and Company, a slaughterhouse and meat-packer in downtown Indianapolis. His job, as I later understood it, was to determine the number of black men needed, along with their various tasks ("Knock, Shackle & Hoist Cattle, Saw Breast & Raise Weasand, Rip Tails & Tie Bungs," etc.) for the most efficient "kill per hour." He wore a long white smock when he visited the killing-floor, and when he came home from work, the smock often had raspberry-colored bloodstains on the part that hung below his knees.
It seems that my parents had tried to conceive a child for a long time before I was born, and, given their ages, decided that I was it. At one point there was talk about adopting "a little sister" for me, an idea that I wholeheartedly supported, but nothing ever came of it. My mother kept a diary for the first three years of my life. Her June 1, 1935, entry concludes: "Get much medication and our little boy is born this day at 10:50 a.m. His Daddy seeing him enter this old world. A Little Clayton, Jr. Our dream at last realized & our prayers answered. Thank God for it all." Before I was born, I was referred to as "little squidger" or "little sicker." As a baby, possibly because they thought I was going to he a redhead, I was "Sonny." My father kept a meticulous daily record of my infancy, in a small Baby's Book of Events, which had page headings like Baby's Weight, Congratulations, Gifts, Baby's First Tooth, Baby's First Shoes, First Outing, Our Baby's First Word (mine apparently was "dad-da," at ten months, three weeks, followed by "dite," "chur," "cal," "wow-wow," "cock," "wa-wa," "bot," "cacker," and "chupchup"). On the inside front cover of this amazing record is the rose my father gave my mother after I was born. Faded russet, it is taped, under cellophane, to a photograph of the hospital, with my mother's room Xed below the windowsill. The book ends with my third birthday, as did a good deal of my father's fascination with me. On one level, he seems to always have regarded me as an infant: his last words to me, when he was dying, in 1971, as he played with a button on my shirt, were "kitchi-kitchi-coo."
To a certain extent, my mother picked up the recordkeeping where my father left off. I still have three large packed scrapbooks that begin with my letter to Santa Claus when I was five, and end with a photograph of my Phi Delta Theta "pledge" class, when I was eighteen. She clipped every reference to me that appeared in the daily high-school newspaper, carefully pasted in invitations to parties and dances, as well as many of my cartoons, my newspaper route record book, and my twenty-seven Boy Scout merit-badge cards. She was wildly in love with me, and whatever confidence and belief in myself that I have come up with I owe to her. As she lay dying of spinal cancer (in the same hospital where I had been born), she told me: "the most important thing in my life has been to be your mother." While her words moved me more than I can say, they also saddened me, because she had hardly any sense of a life of her own. I was, indeed, her "dream," and like many women of her generation, I imagine, her life was so centered on her only-child son that she did virtually nothing for herself on her own.
I seldom dream these days of my father. I often dream of my mother who is usually sick in bed someplace needing my care. Such dreams are so potent that I awake convinced that my mother is still alive. These dreams lead me to believe that the infant part of me knows nothing of death and as long as it is active in my dreaming will envision its mother forever living.
In my nightly prayer, kneeling before my bed, my wrists against the bed edge, pressed palms pointing up like a grotesque fin, I offered my sleepy body to a "Lord" who was to possess and possibly keep my A "Lord" who in turn offered me nothing—no dream maps, no notions of what animals did in their sleep, no night jungle gyms for my nine-year-old mind to exercise on during the day in preparation for this nightly transfer of powers. "Soul," likewise undefined by story or image, was even more baffling than the word "Lord." Was it my "day life" that was being loaned out as I lay me down? But the I that might die before I woke up, that was my day life too! For the I that might die in the night (HOW?), wasn't it the same I that might wake up? And if I died before I woke up, would that mean that some of me would still wake up in spite of the fact of having died?
Certainly one effect of my repeated and much mulled-over prayer was to make the night faceless and deep. It was during this time in my life that I created my own little response to the prayer and the consequent crawling in under the covers. I got completely under the covers, head and all, bunched up on my elbows and knees, and crawled around, in place, in a circle, very fast, until I got so dizzy I thought I was going to pass out. Then I stopped and took great pleasure in trying to figure out in which direction my head was pointing. After guessing all the possible room-oriented directions (north toward the Woodrings, west toward the Wardlaws, east toward Sparky's pen, south toward where Negroes lived), I would peep out for the thrill of seeing just how wrong I could be! Always, wrong or right, I was pleased with my "performance," and would then crawl back into sleep position and doze off.
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It occurs to me that I may have been unfair to my prayer in the way I just discussed it: for it could be read as the kind Lord keeping watch over my "soul," and not letting it disappear if something happened to me during the night. Regardless, the weight of the prayer was that night is much different than day, and so different, that anything can happen to you while it is dark. Meaning that "anything" cannot, or probably will not, happen to you during the day. By this logic I reasoned that the scary-looking very poor people downtown across from the place where my father drove me to sell my old newspapers would stay put, or on their porches, during the day—but at night? Might they be the very people the "Lord" was protecting me from during the night? But the prayer said that I might die, that the Lord might not be successful in protecting me? After all, I was alone in bed, not with my mother or father (nor, since I was an only child, with brothers or sisters).
As I got older, the night increasingly became an emptiness to fill, or inhabit, the fearful boundary that if crossed might hurt me—and/or tell me something about "Lord" and "soul." Night became that dangerous place where you might meet people you would not want to meet during the day, or in my case, could not meet during the day. As I grew bigger and stronger, the menacing-looking poor people sitting on their porches watching my middle-class father and me invade their surroundings (if only for fifteen minutes, the time it took the guy to weigh my stacks of newspaper and pay me), these people began to draw me, make me wonder about them. They got mixed up in my mind with "south toward where Negroes lived," not only because the poor parts of Indianapolis then all seemed to be south of us but because without any coherent counterinstruction I had begun to build a web out of the following associations:
night was different and dangerous
but I might learn something from it that I was not learning from my parents in our sunny house—
night was poor and Negro, it had different rules, or maybe no rules; our house, 4705, was like a toy train (even if I "derailed", I was merely whipped and put back "on track")
When I was around fifteen, several things happened overnight: I started collecting records of "romantic" orchestra music (since it was what you danced to with dates), and discovered the record store near Shortridge High School (in a lower middle-class semi-black neighborhood), where someone was listening to "Jazz at the Philharmonic" records and Down Beat magazine was sold. I went to my first "Jazz at the Phil" concert, started wearing pegged pants, subscribed to Down Beat, and ordered, sight unseen, two 45-rpm records, one by Lennie Tristano and another by Bud Powell. What I heard on the Powell record now escapes me, but I still clearly recall Tristano's ghostly version of "I Surrender Dear." When I tried to figure out what was special about this music, it dawned on me that they were not playing the same thing over and over. While I didn't know what Tristano and Billy Bauer were doing, I could tell that they were doing something that made no sense in between the beginning and the ending when they played the melody. They played the melody, then got lost, and then they played the melody again. I am sure that I did not think of the "lost part" as the night part of the record, but maybe I did—my way of associating in those days was very naive but also highly irrational, and I am sure that the fact that most of the jazz I listened to was played by blacks intensified my night-oriented web of associations: the melody parts, even though I could understand them, somehow were less interesting than the in-between parts in which all sorts of things happened that I could not understand. I should add here that I had played the piano since I was six years old at my mother's insistence—I had had, I think, a typical "neighborhood piano teacher" musical upbringing, one lesson per week over the years, moving from Teaching Little Fingers to Play to "Rustle of Spring," some Bach inventions, and several Chopin etudes by the time I was sixteen. Jazz was especially interesting, then, because you "made up" things that were not on the score.
Neither of my parents drank liquor or wine (my father once kept a jug of homemade dandelion wine in the refrigerator for a year without, to my knowledge, drinking any of it), and they more or less imposed on me a limited version of their own conservative social
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patterns. They always had to know where I was on the one or two nights per week that I was allowed out of the house after dark, and I was never, at fifteen, allowed to stay out after 9:30 p.m. I even had to tell my mother where I went (if I did not come home directly, as she preferred) after school in the afternoon. I was being set up to absolutely duplicate their daily/nightly lives. I think their "dream" was that I might go from fifteen to fifty-five (my father's age then) without dealing with sixteen to fifty-four. In fact, I think this is the secret life of the American Midwest: as the puberty vines begin to grow and rustle, they are bound up by the "system" and hurled forward, so that a growing boy or girl finds him or herself suddenly (and eternally) in a time warp, passing over the present experience, rushing, in place, toward the ages of his or her parents and teachers. Sports are very effective in this witchcraft, as they intensify the "rules" grid at home, and focus the unsuspecting player on a life of winning vs. losing.
My mid-to-late teenage years were enormously complicated because while I was being bound up and mailed ahead of my years (the bindings being football, wrestling, track, and Boy Scouts), I was exchanging my childhood prayer pact for an obsession with Indiana Avenue, the "Negro tenderloin" of Indianapolis in the early 1950s, with its theaters, jazz clubs, booze, whores, its various initiations, as it were, into some of the shapes of the night. Most of my forays into the world of The Orchid Club or The Surf Club—the latter being on West Sixteenth Street and jazz-oriented rather than blues-oriented, as most of the Indiana Avenue clubs were—involved a plunge into sheer sensation. I mean that I was not a studious, reflective "student of jazz." I went down to Indiana Avenue like a demonized zombie intent on saving my "soul," whatever it was. Like a dead boy trying to find a connection, a jazz socket, into which I might stick one of my fingers and feel what then seemed to be the electricity of the night, forty-seven blocks south of 4705 Boulevard Place, a great raging interiority, with people dancing on tables, flashlights on our false ID cards.
It seems remarkable to me today that I actually recall any of the people or the music, less because of being engulfed by the wildness and weirdness of Indiana Avenue than because of the schizophrenic dance I was trying to do between what seemed to be two utterly incompatible worlds. For my parents had done a pretty thorough job on me. Unlike a few acquaintances who drifted out of the white middle-class world into the "floating world" of jazz, my anatomy belonged to Mom and Dad. Try as I might to look "cool," or to feel my way into bebop (in contrast to "White Christmas," which I had played every year for quietly assembled parents and relatives at the end of the holiday dinner), I felt like a salamander programmed into a color pattern that could not be altered at will. I was white and destined to very quickly become grey, and I didn't really want to be black, or a "white negro" either—for the world that blackness and jazz seemed to represent was a dangerous half or quarter world from my viewpoint. I was willing to step off the land of 4705 at 9:00 p.m. (lying to my parents that I had gone to a late movie or that someone had had car trouble), and move about on the ice offshore for a few hours, but the idea of making the leap, fully, onto what seemed to be shifting ice in endless night, was unthinkable. I believe that if I had, such a move would have been disastrous. Since I lacked the kinetics of bop rhythm, I would undoubtedly have merely immersed myself in a "white negro" lifestyle and gone down the drain via booze or drugs.
Jazz thus, over several years, became an image filled with potential liberation, but liberation into what? An image crisscrossed by lines I both could not and would not cross. On one level, it was an excuse to "get out of it," to drown in a blur of neon, beer, and noise for a few hours, to feel a senseless, perilous alternative to 4705, and in that way in my still very innocent mind it tied creativity into a destructive lifestyle which in a queasy way made being home with "White Christmas," the piano, the relatives, food, and a warm, comfortable bed all the more difficult to break with. In one stroke, it made home predictable and bleak, and reinforced its connection to childhood needs. If I had been reading poetry and looking at paintings at this time—if I had had other examples of creativity that showed people like me could successfully do it, I probably would not have milled around without direction for another five years—in certain ways, the worst years of my life—trying to fit into a middle-class, business-oriented world that played with my split personality in a new way. Once away from home, at eighteen, in my new "home," the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house in Bloomington, Indiana, my need for parental reassurances turned me into a needy seeker of friends among young men whom in my guts I detested.
Much more important than being merely an excuse to get out of it, jazz was a lifesaving, explosive connection to virtually everything I have come to experience outside of what now seems to be that little island of northside Indianapolis, with its 4705 lighthouse casting its white, white beam across the dark waters, as if seeking to lead survivors in—who were of course supposed to look like my parents and me, and have lifeboats of the right model. The initial attraction of Indiana Avenue was Faustian—as if I, as one who had never dreamed, was being offered a nightmare in exchange for continuing to not dream at all. The discovery that the night was not just a wide, soundless, rather eerie basin, but a multistoried dwelling, with pits and altars, apparitions, sensual terror, and thrilling sounds, was a necessary stage in ultimately leaving my background and taking the risk of becoming an artist.
The Orchid Club, and all the other clubs and dives and backrooms that I found my way to, were like stepping out of Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" painting (a copy of which was prominently displayed in the waiting room of the baby doctor I was taken to) and entering the world of Max Beckmann. It was as if I had been crouched on middle-C all my life and suddenly through some mysterious grace had discovered that octaves stretched forth like Arctic wastes and Amazon jungle on each side. I remember being in clubs that seemed as if they were literally being destroyed the night that we had somehow found out about them, and slipped in to a sanctuary of blasting horns, incredible odors, and swirls of bodies that almost seemed amoebic, pulsing as if to suggest that all of us could
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part from ourselves and roar into an unending tunnel of "earthly delights." And then, just as suddenly, to find oneself outside, in the trashy, drifting dark, hungry, half-looped, wanting more and more—and ending up with a dozen White Castle twelve-cent burgers (the White Castle diner being halfway between Indiana Avenue and home) or driving around in the back alleys, slouched down in the backseat with a warm Coke half-filled with Four Roses, regarding the back of Dick Foltz's head in the driver's seat as he haggled, from time to time, with the pimps who mysteriously materialized as our Buick stopped behind the grim silhouette of a building that "looked like" it might be a cat house. The next afternoon, again safely ensconced in our dens or bedrooms, we would be on the phone with buddies, filling each other in on what happened the night before and plotting the next "clubhopping" evening.
I suppose most North American artists have, in varying degrees, a period like this, a period that Allen Ginsberg dramatized in Howl. In fact, one reason that Howl remains so memorable may have to do with its sojourn in that "purgatory" between not being an artist and being an artist that haunts so many sensitive people. Yet most of the unnamed figures in Ginsberg's saga seem damned forever—if they do not kill themselves in the course of the poem itself, one feels that they will a year later, or that they will fade back into a lifestyle based on their backgrounds and never be heard of again. I envision an innocent middle-class youth wandering into the library to take out Tom Sawyer, and by chance getting plugged into the library's "brain," which is as frightening a brain as I can imagine. At the point the soft, passive mind is infiltrated, really infiltrated, by a Blake or van Gogh, it goes crazy, if not mentally, certainly in lifestyle, attempting to reconstellate, or better, constellate for the first time, what "everything" means.
Fortunately at the same time that I was hitting The Orchid Club, I was a night later dropping in at The Surf Club, where musicians such as the Montgomery Brothers could be heard working out the music that would later make them famous. Especially in the case of the three Montgomery brothers (with whom I once played a set, at a Saturday afternoon jam session), I got the feeling that the club was their workshop, and that they were really thinking while they were playing, and in ways that I could not then even hope to understand, expressing their lives. Thus jazz, at one end of the spectrum, was sheer descent into the hives of Indiana Avenue and its back alleys, but at the other end, a chance to glimpse genuinely creative artists working in a way that I imagine someone my age might have watched a painter paint in another time and place. I recall to what extent Wes Montgomery, who at that time was hardly known at all, looked at home as he played his guitar—as if he had a child in his cradled guitar, as he kept drawing sweetness and power out of that "force" in his arms. For he was childlike, not only as an artist in relaxed but utterly serious concentration, but in demeanor when he would chat with me. I would tell him the names of a few records I had recently bought and try to say something hip about what I heard on them, or make a comment to show that I was following articles in Down Beat. Wes would smile and more or less have something good to say about anything I mentioned. He seemed to be at peace with the world as a man, and, as an artist, capable of lifting me out of my chair. I think he was the first great artist with whom I had personal contact.
By the time I was eighteen, I had figured out what bop musicians were doing between beginning and ending melody-run-throughs—they were improvising. They were using the tune's chord structure on which to base their own melody lines, so they were free and bound, or in a pattern that was enabling them to add their own ideas to what someone else had written. They were not just repeating "White Christmas" over and over before an audience of uncles and aunts staring, as if in prayer, at the remains of the turkey on their plates. Did this mean that I could change my life? I knew that I was "different" than my parents—did this jazz information also mean that I did not have to repeat their lives for the rest of my life? If so, what was my "chord structure?" For once such a question got into me, I was, in my own way, standing before Rilke's archaic torso of Apollo who told the young poet "there is no place that does not see you" (the real climax of that famous sonnet for me, not the final line). Jazz, as Wes Montgomery seemed to embody it, was a way of life—more than hands on an instrument, it seemed to be a way of being, of comportment. But how could I be (I fuzzily argued with myself) like Wes Montgomery? I knew in my bones that I was not a jazz musician. Other than my fragile connection to the jazz world, I was like an aimless kite, being buffeted about a hundred feet above 4705, for all practical purposes still attached to an umbilical string.
For the next four or five years I wandered, a "white ghost," unable to realize that my dilemma itself was a place to begin, if I could find a means of expression. The Phi Delt midnight living room, bristling with paddles and fire, was a caricature of The Orchid Room—even to the extent that while the actives pummeled us, they played "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" on the record player because the fraternity was at that time at the corner of Tenth Street—and Indiana Avenue! I had moved sixty miles south to another "Indiana Avenue" where instead of serving you Cuba Libres and "Night Train" they beat the shit out of you!
O father swing away!
O mother draw away!
O father swing away!
O mother draw away!
—that is one of the prayers I repeated, as I pressed myself to the mattress in my bunk in the third-floor fraternity dorm. How I yearned to be back in that white "castle" as 4705, through whose dining-room porthole-window I could safely peer at a grey autumnal sky that threatened never to reveal its interior orgies unless the little viewer literally stepped out of his skin.
My first poem, written in 1957, was called "The Outsider," and it was a timid, versified reenactment of feelings I had picked up reading Colin Wilson's Outsider, a book that introduced me to such visionary figures as Blake and van Gogh on the periphery of societal centers. However, my first engagement with poesis took place when I was a freshman at Indiana University, 1953, in Herbert Stern's freshman composition class. After having given several assignments (which I had done poorly on), he said: write anything you want to.
I wrote a kind of prose-poem, in the voice of an aging prostitute, standing at her hotel window, watching newspapers and rubbish blow down a deserted street at 4:00 a.m. Stern gave me an A- and under the grade wrote: see me. When I sat down in his office, he told me that the piece was excellent but that I was in trouble because I had not written it. I still recall his words: "The person who wrote this did not write your other themes." I protested, and in the end he believed me, and said: "If you can write like this, there are a couple of books you should read." On a scrap of paper, which he handed me, he wrote: The Metamorphosis, and under it, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. To what extent Stern himself was conscious of the significance of this particular juxtaposition, I will never know—but by citing the Kafka story (which I waited two years to read), he had identified what had happened to me in my "free theme," and by citing the Joyce (which took me nine years to read), had he slyly challenged me to become an artist?
In my theme, I had aged myself, changed my sex, and dressed up as a parody of my mother (which as a thirteen-year-old I often actually did). The figure was utterly fictional—I knew nothing about the lives of prostitutes, and that was probably part of the point too: I had entered imagination by speaking out of a place I had never personally experienced. I had left the confines of an "assignment"—my entire life to that time and continuing beyond it was framed by assignments—and wandered into an "other." "Je est un autre," Rimbaud had written when he was seventeen. I is a metaphor. Clayton is a prostitute, Clayton is not merely Clayton. Clayton does not merely live in the Phi Delt fraternity house and take abuse daily as a "pledge." Clayton is a fifty-five-year-old woman looking out on a street that does not exist.
A move toward origin, toward our so-called "face before birth," toward that which we are but will never be, toward what we were but are not. The initial fascination with writing poetry is similar to a visit to an astrologer to request a horoscope. My aged whore pointed me at a past in the present, indicating (though I did not realize it then) continuity and depth. The street was empty except for blowing (unreadable) newspapers, yesterday's news. It was empty and I was to populate it with my own news—I was to learn how to read the street, and to get used to not being myself. I was like a tree still rooted in Indianapolis earth, learning how to twist within my own background and to observe "other" things around me.
I had nothing to moor my "free theme" to, as I was drifting in the superficial social world of the Phi Delta Theta house that took over all my waking hours. If you looked at an "active" in the wrong way, you could be beaten on the spot. Whenever they felt the "pledges" had it too easy for a few days, there would be a midnight "line up," with the twenty-two of us WASP's driven out of bed, stripped, and beaten naked with long wood paddles in a bent-over circle, as the "actives" whooped and hollered drunk around us. I had slipped through high school with average grades only because of rigorous home discipline. Now without my parents to rein me in, I went with the "fraternal tide," which meant figuring out how to do the minimal amount of study to just get by, learning how to be "one of the guys" while being driven by the need for sexual conquest. The "frat house" itself was a kind of gym echoing with the stress of our lives, constant chores, racing here and there, with picnics and beer-blasts on the weekends. As we got closer to "Hell Week," after which we would be initiated, the hazing intensified. During Hell Week itself, we all slept in our suits on the floor in a basement room, and in the evenings were subjected to a disgusting array of torments.
I had enrolled in Music School out of a vague affinity with the arts. After all, I had studied the piano with several neighborhood piano teachers, I had taken cartoon lessons while in junior high school, had done well in high-school life-drawing classes (my mother framed a drawing I did of a hobo paid to model for us and hung it by the living-room door), and like many others had participated in Junior Vaudevilles and Family Frolics, dancing and playing the piano. But the possibility of a commitment to art went out the window when I was faced with being on my own in the fraternity world. The split I had felt between jazz and my middle-class home existence was now deepened and undermined at the same time. I could not identify with the serious, pale, and non-regular-guy music students, but I also did not know how to be accepted by my fraternity brothers. I think they felt that I was an oddball masquerading as one of them, and they loathed me for this.
As a freshman, I studied with a concert pianist on the Music School faculty named Ozan Marsh who was appalled at my presumption that a few hours practice each week would meet his standards. In the spring of 1954, he suggested that I do something else with my life. I went back to Indianapolis, took up residence in my home bedroom, and prepared for a long, lazy summer as lifeguard at the all-white middle-class private Riviera Club, a twenty-minute bicycle ride from our house. Within a few days, I was befriended by a plantinum-haired ex-paratrooper named John Fish who drove a new, black Lincoln convertible. He was looking for someone to drive to Los Angeles with and dig the new West Coast jazz scene. I convinced my mother that I would continue to study the piano while in Los Angeles, and off John and I went. It was my first summer on my own, and it set a precedent for the later journeys to Mexico and the extended visits to Japan and Peru in the 1960s.
I really did end up taking piano lessons in Los Angeles that summer: with Richie Powell, Bud Powell's younger brother, killed a year later in the tragic Pennsylvania Turnpike accident that also took Clifford Brown's life. I paid my way parking cars for the Systems Auto Park Company, working a downtown lot across from the still-standing Cecil Hotel. Fish, who worked as a repossessor for Household Finance, would come by around 9:00 p.m.; I would change from my tan uniform into regular clothes in the collection booth, and we would take off for the clubs. Outside the Tiffany Club one evening, two very good-looking black women asked Fish and me where they could park their car, and when they walked out of the lot we latched onto them—to find out, on entering the club, that they were the wives of Clifford Brown and Max Roach! The two of us kept getting thrown out of apartments whose managers would discover my rented piano a couple of weeks after we moved in. We ended up in Echo Park at the end of the busline. Suddenly it was late August and my father was on the phone insisting (in order to get me to come back to school, I think) that I would be drafted if I did not re-enroll. He sent me bus fare, and I entered Business School that September.
By doing so l lost my few hours of piano practice each week which had in the past year given me a little distance from fraternity life. I vaguely recall sitting through two years of accounting and business management classes not having the slightest idea of what was being discussed; of spending more time figuring out how to cheat on a final exam than it would have taken to study for it; of dreading and worshiping each coming weekend. Would I get a hot date? A feel up? Robert Lowell's image, in the poem "Skunk Hour," of "lovecars" huddled together "hull to hull," was magnified a hundredfold every weekend in fraternity parking lots. Not that people were happily screwing in the backseat; no, couples were more often than not telling dirty jokes in double-date situations, or endlessly necking. The energy was all in labyrinthine repressions. The guys were, almost without exception, hung up on the whore/virgin duality, eager for anything that "walked," but at the same time only wanting to be seen, on a regular basis, with a pretty WASP popular-sorority pin-up who, in order to maintain her status, had to be a "prick teaser." Beyond the university, as if in a murky ghetto, were the "town girls" who, like the nursing students at Saint Francis Hospital in Indianapolis, had "easy" reputations. But they were hard to find.
By spring 1956, my grades were so low that I was put on probation for a semester. At that time, I made a simple but, in the long run, crucial decision: I would not go back to Indianapolis to spend the summer and my probation-semester with my tail between my legs at home. I would stay in Bloomington, move out of the fraternity, and get a job. I think that if I had gone back to Indianapolis at that point, my life would have sunk into mediocrity for good.
I moved into a two-bedroom apartment off campus with a couple of Korean War vets, history majors, only haphazardly studious, but older and pretty worldly. They regarded fraternities as beneath discussion. For about a year, I sold men's clothing at the Block Department Store at the edge of campus, and associated with old fraternity buddies, playing a lot of all-night poker, but also meeting psychology and philosophy students, and reading books like Wilson's Outsider and poetry by e. e. cummings and Dylan Thomas. I had initially been brought into the fraternity by a slightly older high-school friend, Lee Lacy, a jazz drummer who seemed to be headed for a career in the world of the big bands. By the spring of 1957, Lacy had also moved out of the Phi Delt house and was playing with the Wayne Luby band. More and more I began to hang out with bohemian artoriented students, some of whom lived in a rooming house called "Wino Junction." On the weekends we drank and jammed at The Stardust off the square in downtown Bloomington, while during the week we ate pizza and drank beer in Nick's English Hut. One night at the end of a poker game, someone owed me ten dollars he didn't have, so he offered me two paintings instead. One of the paintings was of a man and a woman, and someone had punched a hole between the man's lips and stuck a cigarette in. To get the canvas repaired, I looked up its painter, a graduate student named Bill Paden, who more or less introduced me to the visual arts and left-wing politics.
When I enrolled again in school I became a philosophy major, which enabled me to take literature courses as electives. I took an Introduction to Twentieth-century American Poetry course (from E. A. Robinson to Karl Shapiro) with Sam Yellen, writing my term paper on Robinson Jeffers' "Tower beyond Tragedy," and several creative-writing workshops with Yellen and Josephine Piercy. Both were sweet, undemanding, and encouraging professors, exactly the kind of people I needed to be around as I slowly swam out of a massive life confusion. I stopped working at Blocks, and got a job two nights a week at the piano-bar in the Dandale, little more than a steak house, but in those days the classiest place in Bloomington. I met a manic Shakespeare-drenched graduate student named Gene Koretz who was looking for a roommate, and moved into his roomy, bohemian apartment, where we had parties every weekend. Philosophy was going in one ear and out the other, but poetry was sticking. In the fall of 1958 I met several people who were seriously involved with contemporary poetry, and who, overnight it seemed, introduced me to the poets who have become my friends and peers over several decades, as well as to the twentieth-century European-American avant-garde tradition.
Jack and Ruth Hirschman were a dashing, gregarious couple from New York City who, over the following year, seemed to pull a string which released from the sky itself, Rimbaud, Mayakovsky, Lorca, Rilke, Joyce, Henry Miller, and Djuna Barnes. They also put me in contact with Robert Kelly, Jerry Rothenberg, and David Antin, friends from their CCNY days, before Jack became a graduate student at Indiana University in comparative literature. The Hirschmans also invited me to read English versions of St. John Perse in their triannual bilingual poetry-reading series, called Babel, and got across to me that if I wanted to write meaningful poetry I had to become aware of world poetry, not just the poets in Yellen's introductory course.
At about the same time, I met Mary Ellen Solt, the wife of history Professor Leo Solt, who had taken a course with R. P. Blackmur in the summer School of Letters, and had written a paper on William Carlos Williams and the American idiom. Blackmur suggested that she show it to Williams, and a week later Williams had called Mary Ellen and invited her to Rutherford, telling her that she was the first person to really understand what he had been doing for years. Through Williams, Mary Ellen was put in contact with Louis Zukofsky, Robert Creeley, and Cid Corman. By the fall of 1958, 1 had become an associate editor of Folio, a literary magazine published by the English Department; the following spring the editor quit, and I offered to take his place. When my offer was accepted, I immediately wrote to all of the Hirschmans' and Mary Ellen Solt's writer friends, as well as to Allen Ginsberg and Robert Duncan, and on the basis of what they contributed, along with translations of Pablo Neruda, Karl Krolow, Ingeborg Bachmann, César Vallejo, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, began to assemble what I called "the NEW Folio."
At this time I also began to drive to New York City over vacations and holidays, and like countless aspiring artists before me, to "knock on doors." Allen Ginsberg came to the door of his Tenth Street flat and told me he would talk with me if I would buy him a hamburger. I did, downstairs in the luncheonette, and he talked nonstop for an hour about Shelley and Mayakovsky. Then he told me to go meet Herbert Huncke and tell him Allen had sent me. I knocked, and was met by a gentle face from the pit who invited me in to a living room in which several people were silently camped out on battered furniture. "We're cooking a poem, man," Huncke said, "com'ere." He led me into the kitchen and opened the oven door. There it was! a typed poem on a sheet of paper turning brown around the edges in a 350-degree oven. Huncke closed the door and shuffled back into the living room, me following. Still no one said anything. After hanging around for a few minutes, I decided that I was not hungry, and slipped out.
While I was enthusiastic for something to finally commit myself, I was terribly innocent and utterly unaware of how many English Department professors felt about the grey, academic Folio being turned into a vehicle for "Beat" and "Black Mountain" poetries. After the second issue came out in the winter of 1960, at the instigation of the faculty advisor, Robert G. Kelly, the department removed the Folio funds from the following year's budget, ending the magazine after twenty-seven years of publication. My sin, odd as it may seem today, had been in trying to print Allen Ginsberg's poem "Paterson," which contained the words "shit" and "fart," and a long section from Zukofsky's work-in-progress on Shakespeare (published a few years later as Bottom: On Shakespeare). Kelly had passed the Zukofsky essay around and no one could understand any of it; they therefore decided that it was meaningless and should not appear in "their" magazine. In both cases, in order to save the magazine, I had compromised, explained the situation to the writers, and received other work from them, which Kelly allowed to be published. Regardless of my cooperation, the message had gotten around that the barbarians were at the gates. Ironically, the chair, James Work, was a Swift scholar, and Kelly considered himself an expert on Joyce. The fact that neither of these professors would allow Folio to print the Ginsberg and Zukofsky work indicates that although their backgrounds should have amply prepared them to be able to accept this material, they were irrationally against the "new" when it appeared unbacked by the critical establishment.
Hirschman said "they hate metaphors," and I quickly began to realize that many of the English Department professors were even less sympathetic to the poetry that was exciting me than my fraternity brothers would have been! I was in a very delicate situation, because I had entered the English literature M.A. program with only a few courses in English and American literature, and in less than a year would be facing the same professors across the table for M.A. "orals" who had killed Folio. One day Yellen called me into his office and told me that there was no way that I could pass my orals. "They will be laying for you," he said, "and the thing for you to do is to take an M.A. degree that does not involve orals, and then get out of here." I decided to switch to an Master of Arts in Teaching, which involved courses in educational philosophy and two months of student teaching. As my thesis advisor, Yellen arranged for me to submit a manuscript of poetry, and, with graduation in sight, helped me to land an instructorship with the University of Maryland's Far-Eastern Division, where I would teach composition and literature courses to American military personnel stationed in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea.
I had initially contacted the University of Maryland in the hopes of being sent to their European division, in order to spend some time in Spain. I had started to study Spanish on my own, in 1958, upon discovering real discrepancies between different versions of the same Neruda poems. Tasting Spanish, as it were, made me aware that Mexico was only several hitchhiking days away. By this time, I had also, via Kelly and Rothenberg, met Paul Blackburn who was quite familiar with contemporary Latin-American literature, and had translated some Octavio Paz poems for Evergreen Review 8, the "Ojo de Mexico" issue. On a June morning in 1959, my father dropped my trumpet-player friend, Don Eggert, and me off at the southern Indianapolis city limits, and as he turned around, we faced the oncoming traffic with held-out thumbs.
I suppose that everyone wants to conceive of their lives as having a somewhat conscious developmental pattern, in which various blocks are met and removed, with, for Americans, the sky being the limit. In my own case, I feel that I lived underwater until my early twenties at which time, via poetry, I broke the surface and began to teach myself how to swim. For me, such action was peristaltic for years; the tension that I experienced as a teenager between parental restrictions and the lure of an expressive freedom via jazz, was, until the late 1970s, replayed in countless variations on expansion and contraction—a fitful going out of myself, followed by a fitful drawing back in. What I would call my creative anguish during the late 1950s to the late 1970s was a simultaneous desire to be outside of myself via translation, and participation in transpersonal systems (Blakean archetypal figures, the I Ching, primitive mythologies, etc.) and a counterdesire to uncover and evaluate these "underwater" years that seems to have culminated in the sadomasochistic embrace of the fraternity complex. I did not want to give up the outward for the inward, or put another way, the "other" for the background-coagulated "self" (or vice versa), and I think my attempt to not allow either "side" a clear victory resulted in my relatively long apprenticeship to the art of poetry.
The two summer trips to Mexico, in 1959 and 1960, made me feel that for the most part I had spent my life heretofore in the lobby of a hospital, not knowing whether to present myself for some sort of miraculous surgery or to simply stand up and leave. Mexico was the international gate, and when I passed through, it was, indeed, like being reborn—I had no language, and hardly any preparation for the plethora of odors, sights, tastes, or the Amerindian-Spanish presence of death that seemed to seep and yawn from the natural as well as man-made world, Indiana seemed dead, finished, over, an empty porcelain receptacle; in contrast, Mexico was a ripe wound, in whose depth stirred a still-sensible continuity with the deep past, as well as with the visible wretchedness of the human condition. A piece of meat in a nonrefrigerated butcher shop, so covered with flies that it looked as if it was wearing a black fur bonnet, was ghastly and wonderful all at once, a revelation of the grotesque exuberance and decay of the planet that had been hidden in Indiana behind a facade of sterile and brutal masculine assertion.
The first summer I spent most of my time bumming around Mexico City, ending up broke in Acapulco (where I briefly worked as an assistant bartender in a third-rate hotel until one of the staff confided to me that what looked like chicken on one of our lunch plates was actually buzzard). After a few weeks, I had less than two dollars left, and I decided rather than trying to borrow money or telegram my parents, I would just spend it and forget about tomorrow. I recall sitting down with a large, grilled huachinango, and a bottle of Corona, in one of the beach-cabana restaurants on Caletilla Beach. As I finished my "last meal," I noticed that a pretty blonde woman was watching me across the room. She turned out to be an American coed from the Bronx; she was sick of hanging out with her girlfriends and proposed that she rent us a hotel room on a romantic cove down the beach. We spent several very enjoyable weeks together and then got a ride with some of her friends back to the States.
The second summer I rode down to Chapala. Mexico, in the back of a truck, and spent the rest of the summer there, studying Spanish and working on translations of Neruda's poetry from his Residencias en la Tierra I and II. I was determined to eat "real" Mexican food, and so, in the middle of July, gave most of my remaining money to the woman who ran a kind of truck-stop diner, and asked her to feed me for the next month. The food was awful and I was a fool to force myself to eat it (I acutely recall reading Hart Crane's Mexican poems over plates of foul-smelling fish). In a few weeks I turned curb-yellow and could keep nothing on my stomach. A local doctor informed me that I had infectious hepatitis, and gave me some medicine that made me hallucinate. With my remaining money, I bought a third-class bus ticket to Tijuana. At the point we hit the desert sun, roaches swarmed out of the bus ceiling down into our seats. I made it to Pacific Palisades where friends from Bloomington, the painter James McGarrell and his wife, Ann, had rented a house for the summer. I rested there two weeks, then hitched back to Indiana via San Francisco and Chicago.
I returned with most of the poems that went into my first (privately published) collection, Mexico and North. The poems still to come centered upon my first marriage in the spring of 1961 to Barbara Novak, from Logansport, Indiana, who was receiving her B.A. in sociology that spring. At the end of the wedding party, at 3:00 a.m., drunk and exhausted, I wandered out into the Bloomington night and stood in a vacant lot for a long time, knowing that we had made a mistake. While we genuinely liked each other, we lacked a deep and vital connection, and in the back of my mind I glimpsed that by marrying Barbara I was refusing to let go of Indiana. Somehow I would take Indiana with me, everywhere, no matter where, for the rest of my life, as if it were a stinger broken off and embedded in me. How could I blame Barbara for this? I could not—but I sensed that she was much closer to my own parental background than she was to the life I was attempting to connect with—or had Barbara, as a "sister life," moved me to become aware of something I could not yet see—could sense only, unseeing. . . .
My move to Japan, in the fall of 1961, had under it an intuition that only in cultural isolation could I discover what kind of poetry I wanted to write. The temptation was to move to NYC and become part of an artistic "scene." There was a loosely knit circle of poets I felt I belonged with, and it included Kelly (then, with George Economou, editing Trobar magazine and books), Rothenberg (editing the Hawk's Well Press, and a tiny magazine, Poems from the Floating World), as well as Antin, Armand Schwerner, Diane Wakoski, and the slightly older Blackburn and Jackson Mac Low. What brought us together was an interest in experimental European and Latin-American poetries, surrealism (Neruda as well as Breton), occult systems (Jungian psychology, the I Ching, the goddess lore in Graves's White Goddess), and a sense that via certain North American predecessors, such as Whitman, Williams, Pound, Stein, Zukofsky, and Olson, the road was still an "open" one. We were not interested in irony, closed forms, or decorative art (the "New Yorker poem"). At the same time, we did not constitute a "movement" or a "group," and all of us have to this day remained peripheral to mainstream, textbook-anthology American poetry, dominated by the Lowell-Plath-Berryman "Confessionalism" of the 1960s and its academic imitators.
My first teaching assignment in the Far East was in Tainan, Taiwan; I arrived the night before the first classes, no textbooks were on hand, so I read to the G.I.'s out of a Taiwanese pirated edition of Henry Miller's Black Spring for a week. While in Tainan, I tried to complete the "Mexico and North" manuscript Kelly and Economou had offered to publish as a Trobar book that winter (they ultimately refused to do this, and I paid for the printing of five hundred copies myself in Tokyo that winter). The manuscript was in effect finished but I was still involved with it, probably because of my initial reservations about our marriage, and an incident right after the marriage had made me aware of the manuscript's limitations.
My second assignment was teaching composition courses at Tachikawa Air Base outside of Tokyo. We rented a small Western-style house in Musashi-Koganei, and in my spare time, I studied Suzuki's writing on art and Zen Buddhism, Whitman's 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, and what had been published of Olson's Maximus Poems. I realized that if I wanted to experience Japan I had to disconnect from the University of Maryland, and when Gary Snyder and Joanne Kyger passed through on their way to India, they explained that if we wanted to move to Kyoto we could make a living teaching English as a foreign language. We visited Kyoto for the first time that December and were delighted with the city. It was snowing when we emerged from the train station, and the taxi ride, along the river through the old entertainment quarter, passing temple after temple, was so magical that we decided then and there to move the following summer. In contrast to Tokyo which had been seventy percent rebuilt after the war, Kyoto was intact, and still had an air of medieval charm.
I was first really hit by the extent of my confusion and unworked-out relationship with my background when I spent my last two-month assignment for Maryland alone in Seoul, Korea, the spring of 1962. 1 couldn't concentrate on reading poetry, but I couldn't justify not reading poetry. Part of me wanted to get involved with new women, and another part wanted to be faithful to the marriage as well as to what I was beginning to perceive were responsibilities for having committed myself to poetry. Given my "G13," or Major status via Maryland's contract with the U.S. Army, I was housed in the Strategic Air Command compound in a building that the career-officer residents had turned into a combined gambling lodge, nightclub, and whorehouse. While I find it amusing today to see myself sitting in bed trying to understand Rilke's Duino Elegies while guys chased their Korean girlfriends down the hall in their underwear, at the time it was sheer consternation, and after several weeks of it, I went out and picked up a middle-aged whore in old army clothing who stole my billfold while we grappled in a foul hotel room. I forced myself to complete an essay on discovering Neruda and Mexico which appeared as the postface to my Neruda translations, published the following year by George Hitchcock's Amber House Press in San Francisco but printed in Kyoto.
With the Snyders' help, Barbara found us an apartment in the Okumura house about a half-mile up the hill that partially rings the east side of Kyoto. We had two tatami-rooms (with an old-fashioned kotatsu—a table raised over the floor with leg room under the floor below it), a tiny kitchen, and a glassed-in back porch that I turned into a workroom. Outside was a small overgrown backyard with a persimmon tree and a teahouse reserved for use by the Japanese scholar/translator Donald Keene when he was in town. We lived there for a year, and then moved down the road to slightly larger and more reasonable quarters (fifteen dollars a month, in contrast to twenty-five dollars a month at the Okumuras) in the Ibuki house, across from Tsuruginomiya (a Shinto grounds with several shrines), where we lived until our departure for the States in the summer of 1964.
Kyoto was an ideal place to isolate oneself in. It had no American military bases or personnel, and very few foreigners. At the same time, it had been discovered by a few American writers in the 1950s—namely Gary Snyder and Cid Corman—and by the early 1960s there were a couple dozen foreign writers and artists—mainly potters—in residence there. It was possible to not see anyone during the week, and then go to a rambunctious Saturday night party at the Snyders (where Alan Watts or Allen Ginsberg might be visiting). In 1963 1 helped my old painter friend Bill Paden move there from NYC, and the poet Frank Samperi and his wife arrived.
We became close friends with Will Petersen (who made stone prints in a shack by his house in Yase) and his wife, Ami, who was a potter. Petersen and Cid Corman both studied Noh dancing and singing with a local Noh family, and working together, or with Japanese friends, produced several splendid translations of Noh plays while I was there. Petersen introduced me to the word "apprenticeship," by describing a sixty-year-old bonsai gardener as an apprentice to a seventy-five-year-old one. Until then it had never dawned on me that one might learn an art from an older living artist. On another occasion, as he boarded a bus after we had been chatting on a street corner, Petersen shouted at me: "The caterpillar on the leaf repeats to thee thy mother's grief!" The statement amazed me, and upon discovering that it was a couplet from Blake, I bought Blake's Complete Writings at the Maruzen Bookstore in downtown Kyoto and began to struggle through them. I tried to read Jerusalem from scratch, and literally got headaches trying to penetrate its symbolism. So I also bought a copy of Northrop Frye's book on Blake, Fearful Symmetry, and read it slowly twice over the following year. I once passed out while reading Blake's Book of Urizen, and in an attempt to get at the forces that seemed to be moving around in me, I invented archetypal figures, such as Yorunomado and Niemonjima, based on Blake's Los and Enitharmon. I also brought caterpillars into the house, and tried to raise them in a shoebox filled with mulberry leaves. While I was in Kyoto, caterpillars and spiders became totemic, numinous images of the creative process, twin aspects of the artist's relationship to his body and to his materials.
I had begun to correspond with Corman when he was in Kyoto in 1959, and I was still in Bloomington. While aggressively pedagogical, he was also very precise and awesomely dedicated to the art of poetry. He returned to Kyoto at about the same time we moved there. Cid would leave his room in the afternoon, browse the bookstores and art galleries, eat supper downtown, and then with books and correspondence retire to the Muse coffee shop until around 11:00 p.m. If you wanted to see Cid, you called on him in his "office" booth there. Over the next two years, I dropped in once or twice a week, and learned the rudiments of translation and magazine editing. We translated a few of José Hierro's poems together, and Cid went over the first two drafts of my ongoing Vallejo translation. I watched him assemble issues of Origin magazine, and would often walk all the way home from the Muse (about one hour), late at night, just to digest what Cid had said.
At first in Kyoto, I tried to imitate the kind of poetry Corman seemed to be publishing in Origin, but doing so was like compressing my body into my eyes, and my eyes into a few, mostly factual lines. After five hours of evading what was actually on my mind, I would end up with something that falsified my situation and the blocked energy I had put into those five hours. I began to feel that Corman was watching me every minute in which I was writing. He was, indeed, an unyielding advocate of what he practiced, but I had set him like a Nevermore Alter Ego Raven on my shoulder, and once I realized this, I was able to start exploring the kind of poetry I felt that I had to write, which went against Cid and Origin. It was closer to what Cid called "the sick poetry of Ginsberg," in that it began to unpack my impacted past and confront my unresolved identity via some of the "unmentionable" lower body areas that still today, for many poets, fill the warehouses of repression.
My apprenticeship, at the beginning of 1964, consisted of:
- Visits to Corman at the Muse, and correspondence with a wide range of poets, including Hirschman, Rothenberg, Thomas Merton, W.S. Merwin, Blackburn, Hitchcock, and Solt.
- Working on my own poems every morning, then after lunch motorcycling downtown to the Yorunomado coffee shop where I would translate Vallejo until going off to teach English at the Matsushita Electric Company, an hour south of Kyoto.
- After supper, several hours of reading in a neighborhood coffee shop.
- Besides short poems, I was increasingly caught up in an interminable, unfocused long poem, "The Tsuruginomiya Regeneration," which had evolved out of my being unable to my satisfaction to complete a "Prothalamion" for Blackburn's marriage to Sara Golden. The only poem that I wrote in Kyoto that really pleased me, "The Book of Yorunomado," which I subsequently rewrote four times over the next twenty years, was a section from this four-hundred-page work.
I also found a secret place to spend time in alone, an old bell shrine (missing its bell) off the road in the woods further up the hill. I went there about once a week the last year I was in Kyoto, and sitting on a crossbeam, leaning against a post, I would look out across the city into the western hills and try to recall scenes from my childhood and adolescence. One day I suddenly remembered that my father used to whip me with a beech branch in the basement behind the furnace, and I saw some of the ways that this punishment had set me up to accept beatings in the fraternity. I remembered how much I had wanted to have sex with the Woodring girl next door when I was about twelve, and how I would stand by the fence and hold onto the pickets so tightly I nearly cut open my hands. I also recalled being in Sunday School and hearing a story about a heroic dog in the war, and then asking the teacher if the dog would go to heaven. No, I was told, there are no dogs in heaven. After this experience, I could not sleep at night, and became so frightened that I would cry out; my mother would awaken and come in to my bed and hold my hand until I fell asleep. Most of such memories seemed to just fall out of the sky and lie at my feet inert. I suppose that I should have been grateful to have them at hand at all, but I also felt that I had to assimilate them in my poetry. I was slowly getting through my head that the point was not to imitate other poets but to be inspired by what their poetry made possible, and to work with the nonpoetic, since what seemed to be poetic had been done by others and belonged to them.
In spite of my dissatisfaction with most of my writing, I was aware that I was in the process of changing my mental makeup. In the fall of 1962, I had a "visionary" experience while cycling home from the Snyders late one Sunday afternoon—everything began to transform itself before my eyes (the motorcycle became an ox, the handlebars, horns), and after parking and starting to circumambulate Nijo Castle, I saw about thirty feet over my head a huge (human-sized) red spider constructing a web. The Snyders had previously offered me LSD and I had refused it, and I have always suspected that Joanne put some LSD in my tea that afternoon; regardless, the "vision" had a great deal of significance to me, and felt like a totemic offering at the time, confirming on one level at least that I was not simply wasting my time writing poetry. A year later, I began to have migraine headaches while working on poems, and after a couple of weeks the pain transformed itself in the following way: right before falling asleep, I would hear the sound of a bell between my eyes, and then the sound of a window being slammed shut. These peculiar events would then be followed by the same nightmare: I would be hurtling through a winding, smoking tunnel at breakneck speed, expecting to see my father's face at the end. I never did, as a matter of fact, and after several repetitions, I never had the dream again. But the important thing was that it was of a different order than regular dreams, and suggested to me that I had begun to activate a part of my unconsciousness that might provide metaphors for poetry.
We returned to the States in the summer of 1964, traveling on an immigrant boat to save money (I found a good spot at the stern and read Kafka's diaries over the eighteen-day journey). Jack Hirschman, then teaching at UCLA, met us in San Pedro. We spent several weeks with the Hirschmans, and I realized that things had changed between us. I was no longer a worshipful acolyte, and Jack, mesmerized by the life and writings of Antonin Artaud, was translating Artaud, smoking a lot of dope, and dictating hundreds of hours of monologue into a tape recorder on the floor of his workroom. He seemed to be searching for a deeper continuity than before but he also seemed lost.
I felt lost too, but in a different way; I wanted to live in NYC, but I had no idea of how to make a living. I was obsessed with doing accurate versions of Vallejo's ninety-five Poemas Humanos, and not only were they beyond my knowledge of Spanish, the editions I was working with were full of errors. The only way to resolve that situation seemed to be not only to find a Spanish-oriented cotranslator, but also to go to Lima,
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Peru, and arrange with Vallejo's widow to be allowed to inspect the poet's typescript as he left it when he died in 1938 (the book being posthumously edited and published by Georgette Vallejo). But I had no way of making a living in Peru either, and the people I had asked to help me either knew Spanish no better than I did, or if they were Spanish speakers misled me with interpretations of expressions they didn't really understand. In September, I succeeded, with Blackburn's help, in getting a small monthly grant from the Organization of American States Office in Washington, D.C. to translate selections from Latin-American authors that they would send me once a month for six months. We moved back to Bloomington, and Barbara got a job at the Indiana University bookstore.
After she went off to work in the morning, I would sit down in my workroom at the back of our little house on South Fess. In a way, I was still staring out the window at my childhood backyard, in a limbo between being a student poet and an accomplished one. I wrote a seventy-page prose-poem, "The Book of Eternal Death," and several more sections for "The Tsuruginomiya Regeneration," of which "The Book of Coatlicue" was the best, and appeared in Margaret Randall's bilingual magazine out of Mexico City, El Corno Emplumado. With several local poets, including Daphne Marlatt, I formed a talking/reading group, and several of us drove up to Detroit to visit the newly formed Artist's Workshop, directed by John Sinclair. That spring, I took LSD with Daphne and her husband in McCormick's Creek State Park. I saw Barbara's face spread out across the inside of the roof of an old barn, as I lay on the floor staring up. She had Chinese eyes, and her mouth leaked, then poured, blood out of which an infant twisted. In view of events that would take place in Lima the following year, the "vision" was oddly prophetic. We found out that Barbara was pregnant that spring, and I decided that I had to go to Lima and try to inspect Vallejo's papers.
Barbara flew to Cuzco, and spent a few weeks with one of our Latin-American friends, while I flew, bused, and hitchhiked from Indianapolis to Lima, arriving with three hundred dollars to my name, and knowing no one. In a pleasant neighborhood, we found a small apartment that was reasonable, as it was next to a noisy gradeschool playground. I went to the North American Peruvian Cultural Institute (NAPCI) looking for teaching, and ended up being asked by the Director to edit a bilingual literary magazine NAPCI would publish. They would pay me two hundred fifty dollars a month and loan me a typewriter for home use. My only restriction, I was informed, was that the magazine could not publish political material, as NAPCI was an "apolitical" organization. I called the magazine Quena (after a Quechuan word for a one-holed flute traditionally carved from a dead beloved's shinbone), and wrote a flock of letters to writers and translators. On my way to Peru, I had met the Costa Rican poet José Coronel Urtecho, at lunch with Pablo Antonio Cuadra and Ernesto Cardenal in Managua, and he agreed to translate Olson's "The Kingfishers" and "Projective Verse." Within a few weeks I had what looked like a three-hundred-page first issue under way.
Quena # 1 never appeared, for the following reason: the Peruvian poets I met in Lima urged me to print Javier Heraud, so I sent his book to Blackburn, who quickly translated fifteen pages. Heraud had been murdered by the Peruvian army in 1963 while involved in guerilla activity in the jungle. He had become a Communist while in Cuba the year before, but the poetry Blackburn had translated for Quena had been written when Heraud was an apolitical young man in Lima several years earlier. It was Machado-like nature poetry about trees and rivers. The director asked to see the manuscript right before it went to the printer, and kept it mysteriously for a week; he then informed me that I had to pull the Heraud, because the poet had become a political figure. When I protested and investigated the matter, I found out that the manuscript had been sent to the American ambassador, and that NAPCI was really a USIS (United States Information Service) "front" organization, "apolitical" in appearance only. I refused to take the material out, and was fired on the spot. I then found out that by Peruvian law I was entitled to three months' severance pay, and we lived on that, and borrowed money from the Blackburns, to stay on a few more months in Lima, while I continued my work on Vallejo and Barbara prepared to give birth.
One of the people I met in Lima was the American Maureen Maurer (now Maureen Ahern), who had a Ph.D. from San Marcos University, and was eager to respond to my questions about translation problems with Vallejo. Were it not for Maureen's efforts on behalf of Vallejo in English, my 1968 translation of Poemas Humanos would not have been published. For not only had my Quena project ended in disaster, but my work on Vallejo had been thwarted at every stage by Georgette, the poet's French widow, who pretending to protect her husband's archive and name actually created endless complications that kept the poet's work either unavailable or in pirated, error-riddled editions. After denying me access to the worksheets, she decided that she would choose a handful of poems that I would be allowed to translate and publish. Since I had been working on the entire book for over four years, and now had a pretty good seventh draft, it was impossible to cooperate with her, and I began to go out to Maureen's chicken farm, thirty minutes outside of Lima, two evenings a week where we went over all my work to date. On February 26, Barbara gave birth to Matthew Craig Eshleman.
It seemed as if I was being tested by nether powers every time I turned around in Lima. One evening when I was to go out to the Maurers (and spend the night, so Maureen and I could work the next morning), her husband called and cancelled. An hour later, Barbara began to hemorrhage, and suddenly I thought I was watching her bleed to death (had I gone to the Maurers, I believe she would have died). I raced out into the street shouting for help, and then rushed into the facing apartment house, pounding on doors. One opened, a doctor appeared, and we bundled Barbara into the back of his VW and rushed her to a clinic, where they saved her life.
The eight months in Peru were extremely important for me. I had been exposed to the Third World in a political context, and lost my own apolitical innocence. I had spent days wandering the hideous Lima slums, and had made two trips to the Andes (one with Barbara, to Huancayo, for a weekend, and one with Peace Corps workers on mules for two weeks in the Andes east of Ica). I had written a collection of poetry and prose pieces about all of this, called Walks, and kept a meticulous journal, On the Mules Sent from Chavín, while I was in the Andes. I had also translated a long attack on Neruda for Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and in the process of trying to write a defense of Neruda discovered his pathetic Stalinesque poetry of the late 1940s. And: I had become a father, though I did not feel very much like one. By becoming a poet, I had resisted becoming an adult, or at least one in the image of my father. Yet at thirty-one, I still felt like a son, an old, tired son, performing what seemed to be an endless excavation.
Upon returning to Bloomington, Barbara and Matthew stayed with our friends the Nystroms, and I slept on D. Alexander's couch. In 1964 Denis Kelly and I had translated together a small collection of the poetry of Aimé Césaire, and now, along with a long essay by Corman on Zukofsky (accepted for Quena, but still unpublished), I published my first two "Caterpillar" books, run off on a mimeograph machine and then stapled and taped. This time I was determined to live in NYC, and the Blackburns offered me Paul's workroom in the back of their Seventh Street railroad flat to stay in while I looked for a job and our own apartment. Barbara and Matthew went back to Barbara's home in Logansport until it was possible for them to join me.
Once I got to NYC, I nervously began to seek out a new relationship. I was less interested in one-night stands than in meeting someone who excited me physically and soulfully. At Joel Oppenheimer's wedding party, upstairs at Max's Kansas City, I found myself dancing with an attractive woman a bit older than I was named Adrienne. As we jogged about, she shouted through the blare, "What do you think the most important thing in life is?" I shot back, "Having a child," to which she responded: "No! It's an orgasm!" An hour later I was walking her down to the deep Lower East Side where, in a building that looked as if it were under siege, she lived with her two small children. She had left her husband, the photographer Garry Winograd, several years before, and had hid out to avoid an assault. During this time, she had gone into therapy with the Reichian-trained Alexander Lowen, and at the point I met her, she had finished therapy, and had the bristling aura of someone who had been through hell and come through into her own. We saw each other every evening for a week, and I knew that I had, in effect, left Barbara and Matthew.
I applied for an instructor's position at NYU's American Language Institute, to teach English as a foreign language, and was offered a one-year contract, at $5,400. The Blackburns went on vacation, Barbara and Matthew arrived, and I broke my news to her. It was simply better than lying and prolonging a relationship that was dead. At the end of July Adrienne and I went to Fire Island for a weekend. When we returned to NYC on June 26, I heard that Frank O'Hara had died, having been hit by a beach buggy not far from the dune behind which we had been camping out.
In August, Adrienne and her kids went to Hydra, and I helped Barbara get settled on her own in the city. She was hired by the ALI at NYU, and through a new realtor friend, Barbara Beddoes, I found Barbara and Matthew a three-room apartment at Second Avenue and Eighteenth Street, and myself a room in the basement at 10 Banks Street. It was condemned for human habitation and filled to the ceiling with rubbish, but the landlord said I could have it for thirty-five dollars a month if I was willing to clean it out. I lived Japanese-style, on the floor, and showered at neighbors' as my bathtub drain had been filled up with concrete.
For the four years that Barbara, Matthew, and I were in NYC, I kept in contact with my son, spending an afternoon or two with him every week, and often taking him for the weekend. My leaving Barbara, however, had repercussions I had not counted on. The Zukofskys, who in their almost spectrally formal way had been friendly up to this point, cut me off when I informed them of what had happened. Other than for a few times that I dropped in unannounced, I was not invited for dinner at the Blackburns once during my first year in NYC. I found out later, at the point that Sara confided in me that she was going to leave Paul during their vacation at Aspen in the summer of 1967, that my leaving Barbara had upset Sara because she unconsciously wanted to leave Paul.
I did make some new friends, however. I helped Jackson Mac Low, Michael Helter, and Robert Vas Dias get jobs at the ALI, and through Helter met Hugh Seidman. In reaction to a poem that she read at the Poetry Project at St. Marks, I wrote a letter to Diane Wakoski, which was the beginning of a strong friendship that has weathered all sorts of buffetings over the years. I had met the painters Leon Golub and Nancy Spero at Indiana University in the late 1950s, and we began to see each other again, generally through their gracious dinner invitations, in 1967. Through the Golub/Speros I met other painters, among whom Irving Petlin and Nora Jaffe have become dear friends. I also met and spent a lot of time with certain dancers and musicians, such as Elaine Summers, Jim Tenney, Carolee Schneernann, Malcom Goldstein, and Philip Corner. At that time, NYC was full of the heady atmosphere of experimentalism and collegial exchange that made all the arts feel like nodes in a forming/reforming constellation. The Vietnam War, which was beginning to infiltrate all of our lives and arts as an anti-imaginative pressure, rather than alienating us from each other became, in 1967 and 1968, an exasperating cohesive force: while it seemed to be a distraction from soulmaking, it made us experience our own anger and gave us a rational public target to engage.
Most of the people mentioned above participated in an organization called Angry Arts, which in 1968 must have had at least five hundred active artist-members. We attended mass meetings, as well as group sessions during which specific projects were mobilized. As one of the organizers of the poets. I was out on rented flatbed trucks, demonstrating in front of the Metropolitan Museum, as well as in Queens shopping malls. Our aim was to confront people with our outrage over the American aggression in the most potent ways we could imagine. In a 1967 issue of Ramparts magazine we discovered horrifying photographs of napalm victims, and in New Rochelle I located the doctor who had taken them. He told me that he had photos that even Ramparts would not print, and I put two in my new magazine, Caterpillar 3/4, between poems by Allen Ginsberg and Aimé Césaire. We also had the doctor's photos blown up, and on our truck-bed "stage," we held them up high, and read poems and statements to, or at, unfriendly crowds who occasionally tried to pull us off the truck. One Sunday, twenty-three of us, dressed up, entered a High Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral, with napalm-victim posters rolled up under our coats. One of us had apparently alerted police, for as we stood up to unfurl the posters, we were seized by two dozen plainclothes cops and hustled out to the waiting vans, then locked up in the "Tombs" for the night. Bailed out by sympathetic supporters the next day, two of us saw our pictures on the front page of the New York Times.
Of course the late 1960s was not only the period of the Vietnam War (though I consider it to be the most crucial formative force of the era)—it was also the period of LSD, Aquarian astrology, student revolution, feminism, black power, and encounter groups. The realm many of us found ourselves participating in, often with great intention, other times willy-nilly, was electric with crossing positive and negative poles. As if in defense against the mayhem in the Far East, we found ourselves strolling into Central Park for a Be-in, stoned and barefoot, approaching a new Eden just around the corner. LSD sucked one in to the irresolvable maelstrom of the self, while encounter groups clawed one forth to toss in the nets of interpersonal relations. It was a time of terrible tearing, desperate attempts at healing, of dropping emotional depth charges in one's own life as well as in the lives of others (often whom one had just met or would never see again!). Many were simply eaten alive by the extent of the contradictions in the field of force they found themselves in, while a few others, such as Nancy Spero and Robert Duncan, responded to the stress by creating major work.
Besides spending time with Matthew, to whom I was extremely close in the late l960s, and involving myself in war protest, I was also in Reichian therapy, starting Caterpillar magazine, completing the final phase of my first Vallejo translation project, and teaching at NYU. I got out of the Banks Street "hole" in the fall of 1967, moving into a loft at the corner of Grand and Greene Streets, partially fixed up by Jack Boyce, the husband of Joanne Kyger at the time. My rent went from thirty-five dollars to seventy-five dollars a month, and I had a big, handsome, if somewhat crude, space to live in. The Puerto Rican "greasy spoon" below me is today the elegant Chanterelle restaurant. Above me, on the third floor, was a dapper glassblower, Ed Iglehart, who sold hash pipes on Wall Street; above Ed was Jack Smith, mainly known for his film Flaming Creatures.
After leaving Barbara, I realized that for the second time in my life I had put myself through a prolonged period of anguish without doing anything about it for years (the first period being the fraternity years). Inspired by Adrienne's success with therapy, I read one of Alexander Lowen's books, The Betrayal of the Body, and had one session with him. Neither of us liked each other at all, so I wrote to Adrienne, on Hydra, and asked who was in back of Lowen. She responded by sending me her own copy of Reich's Function of the Orgasm, which I read in an afternoon, and followed up on by flying back to Indianapolis the next day and, for the first time, confronting my mother with the way I really felt about my life as their son. Upon returning to NYC, I called Dr. Sidney Handelman, the Reichian therapist Bill Paden had seen in the early 1960s, and went into therapy with him. As the therapy progressed, my hostility broke up into explosive anger, and I was able to recontact early painful events with bursts of emotion so that I knew how they felt. For most of 1968, I was involved in a sexually obsessive, emotionally destructive "romance" with Marie Benoit, a macrobiotic, Scientologic actress who at one point steered me into the Martinique Hotel for several pointless and expensive months of Scientology. Once I saw that I had used Scientology to evade the very difficult last stages of Reichian therapy, I returned to therapy, and completed it in the spring of 1969.
The dynamic connecting of memory and emotion that Handelman encouraged had an effect on my poetry. My tendency in Japan had been to rewrite and rewrite, often sitting blocked before a line for hours. In the late 1960s, due to therapy, some remarks by Robert Duncan, and probably the volatile nature of the times, I stopped revising and started a new poem each time I sat down to write. I consciously worked on a more lively, shifting line, seeking a poetry that was responsible to self and world, a poetry in which there was a rapid, assimilative movement between the inside and the outside. On one hand, I was still working on a poetry of personal needs; on the other, I was picking up on something in the air that circulated in differing ways through the poetry of Vallejo, Artaud, Olson, Duncan, Kelly, and Rothenberg. It was as if, for all of us, the abyss had opened, revealing that it was, at once, the Pleroma, the deep and primitive past, Hell, and a pit in which world mythological bits glimmered. In August of 1969, I set myself the task of writing a long daily poem for one year based on a symbolic grid using the I Ching and zodiacal astrology. I also read Reich thoroughly at this time.
I followed up the first two "Caterpillar" books by bringing out eight more in 1966 and 1967, including small editions of Blackburn, Antin, Samperi, Mac Low, and myself, but I wasn't really set up to be a book publisher, so in the fall of 1967, I started Caterpillar magazine, which was to run twenty issues, over six years, averaging around two hundred pages per issue. Besides original and translated poetry, the magazine included an eclectic range of artists and thinkers, such as N. O. Brown, Leon Golub, James Tenney, Carolee Schneemann, and Stan Brakhage; there were special issues on Jack Spicer and Stephen Jonas, and the nineteenth issue printed Gary Snyder's ninety-nine-page letter to his sister on his 1962 trip to India. Robert Kelly was a contributing editor from the third to the twentieth issue. There was also a ten-part series, called "A Test of Translation," in which various poet-translators were asked to assemble differing versions of a single poem by such poets as Sappho, Catullus, Rilke, and Nerval, and to briefly comment on the merits/demerits of each version, focusing the reader on the translations and not on exegesis or extended evaluation. Over 250 artists and writers appeared in Caterpillar, which averaged a press run of 1,500.
On New Year's Eve, 1968, Golub invited me to a party at the apartment of the art critic Max Kozloff. I spent most of the evening in the kitchen, talking with a gorgeous, imaginative woman named Caryl Reiter, and by the fall of that year we had struck up a solid relationship that has continued and deepened over the years. Caryl moved in to the Greene Street loft, and I began to realize just how tired I was of living from month to month (I had quit my ALI job in the summer of 1968, and since then had met my expenses with a combination of little grants, selling parts of my literary archive, part-time teaching, and readings). Jim
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Tenney told me that a new art school, to be called the California Institute of the Arts, a kind of Black Mountain College with money, he said, was being formed outside of Los Angeles. I applied for teaching in the School of Critical Studies and partly through a misunderstanding was hired. The chair, Maurice Stein, thought I was not only a poet and editor, but an Abbie Hoffman-like radical.
When we met, Caryl was working in a design studio, doing commercial art work and freelancing as a stylist for several photographers. She wanted to quit and study painting, and I encouraged her to. The opportunity for her to do this occurred at Cal Arts, where she studied with Alison Knowles in graphic design. She also studied for a year with R. B. Kitaj, then in residence at UCLA. Because we traveled a lot and her health was poor, she wasn't able to keep a fix on her work and decided to try her hand at jewelry making. She worked for several years as a designer for another jeweler and on her own at home.
Caryl and I moved to California the summer of 1970, renting a house in Sherman Oaks. The Disney family, which was sponsoring Cal Arts, also controlled the board of trustees, and they had refused to allow Stein to hire Herbert Marcuse. Stein, in reaction, lost interest in the school, and by the time we arrived we were greeted by a chaotic assembly of underpaid young faculty, drug-oriented students, and Stein in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt. Within two months, the Disneys fired him, and the school split down the middle between those of us who had to admit he had been a disaster as an administrator (and thus became unwilling supporters of Disney policy) and those who simply hated the Disneys and would defend Stein at any cost. By the spring of 1971, the president and provost had also been fired. I stayed on for the duration of my two-year contract, after which my school was more or less dismantled and most of us not rehired. While at Cal Arts I taught Blake, Reich, Eliot, and Crane seminars, along with creative-writing workshops. I also organized a visiting-writer program, bringing to campus Kenneth Rexroth, Kelly, Corman, Theodore Enslin, and Joanne Kyger, among others.
Before the move to California, the health of both my parents deteriorated to such an extent that they sold the family house and moved into an old-age home north of the city. I helped them move, and during one visit had an extraordinary experience with my mother.
Soon after I started writing poetry in 1957, I met a slightly older couple, both painters, named George and Dolly Stewart, who lived in Indianapolis. I began to visit them, staying over for the weekend, without letting my parents, twenty minutes north of the Stewarts, know I was in town. They were warm, nourishing friends, and I only lost contact with them because I moved to Japan right before they moved to Chicago. While talking with my mother in the spring of 1969, I became curious as to where I had spent my second and third years. I knew where we were before and after this period. My mother's health and memory were failing, but she agreed: if we were going to find the place, it was now or never. We drove south to a neighborhood that had changed immensely in the past decade, and after driving around block after block, my mother said: stop. We were on Delaware Street, in front of a large, nondescript house. The place meant nothing to me, but since we were there, I thought I should at least go up and walk around it. My mother remained in the car. At the southeast corner, there was a public side-door, which I opened, to a staircase. Impulsively, I decided to climb, and as I ascended, I felt a strange, yet pleasant, kind of buoyancy. My god, I thought, she found it—and then, I nearly dropped in my tracks, for as my head came up to the level of the landing, I found myself staring at George and Dolly's door! A diagonal crack in the interior panel had been painted over, but it was still there.
My distressed mother could have been mistaken in regard to finding the house in which we lived when I was two—but regardless of that, she did lead me back to the place to which I had been magnetized, my chrysalis, as it were, at the point I broke free of college life in Bloomington and sought a new place in poetry. And if this was indeed the house we had moved to in 1936, where I would over the next two years learn the rudiments of speech, the overlay of chance and meaning elements involved suggested a pattern at work that I would probably never fully grasp.
My mother died in December 1970, and my father in June 1971. They left me a little unexpected money, so Caryl and I decided to go to Europe in the fall of 1973. Caterpillar had ended that spring (I had accomplished, I felt, what I set out to do, plus editing and typing up for the printer eight hundred pages of poetry and prose per year was too much work to do for more than five or six years); even more importantly, in terms of preparing for an extended trip, I had gone back to the mass of worksheets of the incomplete "Tsuruginomiya Regeneration" after my mother's death, and with massive cuts, honings, and additions, created a new, more focused, and shorter two-hundred-page "serial poem" called Coils, published by Black Sparrow Press in early 1973. It was my attempt to sieve Indiana through my life after leaving Indiana, and in an exhaustive self-portrait, both visionary and realistic, to work through the materials I had struggled with to gain a sense of imaginative manhood. It was on one level a brutal exposé of the much more brutal machismo engrained in my upbringing, and my journey through its venom toward a sense of reciprocity with woman; the book culminated in a "death and transfiguration" in which I set against the death of my mother the vision of the life I proposed to live with Caryl. I had been haunted for years by the fear that if I did not remember and reinvent my background, I would be doomed to circumambulate it for the rest of my life, and that if I allowed this to happen, all projects of a transpersonal nature would constantly be vexed by an imminent "return of Indiana."
I was also at a turning point with Vallejo. In 1968, after a bitter year of negotiations with Georgette Vallejo, Grove Press cleared the rights and published a bilingual edition of Poemas Humanos/Human Poems. I still had in worksheets a translation of the rest of Vallejo's European poetry, his sheaf of Spanish Civil War poems, completed shortly before his death. In 1971 I finally met someone I could work with and trust on a cotranslational basis, and over the next year, José Rubia Barcia, a Spaniard in the Spanish Department at UCLA, and I completed a translation of Spain, Take This Cup from Me, which Grove published in 1974. Barcia and I also decided to retranslate Human Poems, and we completed this work, based on accurate texts and new scholarship, in 1977, with the University of California Press publishing César Vallejo: The Complete Posthumous Poetry, in 1978. My work on Vallejo thus spanned nearly twenty years and represents not only my apprenticeship period, but, in terms of textual attention, its greatest concentration. Vallejo taught me that only via the willingness to contradict myself could I create a poetic self and achieve an imaginative freedom, and offered me a complexity of viewpoint, made up of a triple Marxist-Christian-Indian crucifixion, that is more essential to twentieth-century world poetry than that of any North American poet.
We sublet the Montmartre apartment of the Brazilian film director Alberto Cavalcanti, and lived in Paris until the spring of 1974. While we met a number of European artists—most significantly the Syrian painter Marwan—we did not meet the contemporary French poet whose work has engaged me the most until he came to Los Angeles in 1976: Michel Deguy. With Coils behind me, I was faced with the perennial problem of breaking new ground, and in an attempt to get new material into my work, as well as get beyond a poetry dependent on personal life material, I began to do "portraits" of other artists, restricting myself to materials from their lives and work, somewhat in the same way that Browning developed his "dramatic monologues." I wrote "through" artists whose work had deeply moved me, and I worked on a tone, and imaginal registration that was both inspired and critical. I began my first portrait the second night we were in Paris, writing at a sidewalk cafe, through the painter Chalm Soutine, with Caryl making editorial suggestions. From that point on, she has played an increasingly important role as a reader/editor; she has helped me spot obscurity, nonsense, repetition, not as a supporter simply, but as an acutely responsive—I want to say—old-fashioned reader. She has made me aware of the subtle discrepancies between what I intend to say and what I do say. Her presence, in effect, brings home a memorable remark by Vincente Huidobro: "inventa nuevo mundos pero cuida tu palabra" ("invent new worlds but watch what you say").
Over the next year, I did portraits of Paul Celan, van Gogh, Charlie Parker, Hart Crane, Robert Duncan, and Artaud, with additional portraits of Francis Bacon, Wakoski, and Frida Kahlo, in subsequent years. In the winter of 1974, we had dinner with the Spanish translator Helen Lane, who was then living on a farm outside of Tursac, in the Dordogne region. She convinced us to take an apartment in her farm complex for the summer and spring of 1974.
I had been dimly aware of the Upper Paleolithic painted caves, the largest concentration of which are in the Dordogne, for many years, but it was not until we moved there and began to leaf through Helen's books on the subject that the awesome implications of what they represented dawned on me. Decorated throughout the last Ice Age, from roughly 30,000 to 10,000 B.C., the some two hundred deep cave "sanctuaries" and shelters, in the Dordogne, the Ariège, and the Spanish Cantabrian region, contain the origin of art as we know it today. They indicate that as early as 17,000 B.C. (the period in which Lascaux was painted), man had a vision of his place in the cosmos, and the paintings and engravings range from crude, "abstract" lines, to realistic and elegant depictions of the herbivores and carnivores that ranged the Ice Age tundra.
Virtually no one had made any use of the caves in imaginative writing, and no American poet had much more than mentioned them in his poetry. Since no one knows why the paintings exist, what they mean, or most importantly the mental processes involved in their conceptualization and creation, they are a bottomless source for the imagination—beyond Dante and Shakespeare, beyond even the early Greeks and the Neolithic agrarian settlements, the Cro-Magnon vista opens. Its black beam penetrates the recesses of human psyche when Hades was an animal, and man belonged to a fabric that meshed all things. I had spent the first fifteen years of my life as a poet staring at my personal Indiana past; it now struck me that by turning 180 degrees I could begin scrutinizing the most impersonal and fundamental image-core we know of. My bridge between these two perspectives was the portraits of the early and mid 1970s. I had located a territory of my own to work as my long, long apprenticeship approached an end.
Since the summer of 1974, Caryl and I have made eight trips to the cave regions, and by now have visited around fifty caves. On two occasions I had Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend funds that covered our expenses; on other occasions, we have written travel articles, or acted as guides for small groups. In such books as What She Means, Hades in Manganese, and Fracture, I've attempted to not write descriptive poems "about" the caves or their images, but to draw on their presence to imagine the origin of art and how it still manifests itself in the belatedness and cruelty that frame the twentieth century.
From the fall of 1974 to the fall of 1986 we lived at 852 South Bedford Street, in west Los Angeles, a place that was neutrally effective to live and work in; that is, while L.A. lacks the intellectual concentration and artist network of NYC, it can be less frenetic and depressing. In 1974 L.A. was also a good deal less violent, at least in our neighborhood (adjacent to southeast Beverly Hills)—but by the late 1970s there were break-ins and muggings on our block every week. We were burglarized twice in the early 1980s, and on the first occasion Caryl lost nearly three years' worth of her handmade gold and silver rings and pendants. She had been making jewelry since the late 1970s and was just beginning to sell her work when the burglary occurred. Since then, she has divided her time between editing my poetry and prose and acting as managing editor for Sulfur magazine.
While these years in Los Angeles were hardly inspired by the place itself, we enjoyed our life there very much. Our friends in Los Angeles, and near by, made all the difference. Joyce Vinje and Antonet O'Toole, whom I first met as poetry students, became close friends as did Martha Sattler, a book collector now completing my bibliography, the French poet Bernard Bador, the owner of Chatterton's Book Store, Koki Iwamoto and his family, the translator Michael Heim, an old friend from Indiana University Ron Gottesman, Ellen Gelula, who runs a film-dubbing studio, and Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, a novelist, and her husband, Peter, an investment banker. As the reader might notice from our friends' work, I had little close contact with Los Angeles poets and artists. True, we became close friends with the poets Jed Rasula and Leland Hickman, and the painters Arthur Secunda and Linda Jacobson, in the 1980s, but for reasons that have baffled me, I was treated like a pariah by the poets who identify themselves as "The Los Angeles Poets," and to discuss poetry I occasionally drove south to visit Bob Peters, Jerry Rothenberg, or Michael Davidson, or north to John and Barbara Martin, of Black Sparrow Press, who had moved to Santa Barbara in 1975.
The mid-1970s were lean years; I could not get a full-time teaching position, so Caryl supported us by secretarial work (while I learned to cook). Things began to look up in 1977 when I received an Artistsin-the-Community grant from the California Art Council to teach poetry to black students in a downtown L.A. high school; the following year I received a Guggenheim fellowship, and the year after that, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. In 1977 Annette Smith (a professor at the California Institute of Technology) and I decided to translate all of Aimé Césaire's poetry, and when Caryl and I returned from Europe in 1979, Annette and her husband, David, also a professor at Cal Tech, helped me land a part-time position there, where I taught a creative-writing class each semester for the next five years. Between 1984 and the fall of 1986 when I became a professor at Eastern Michigan University and we bought our first house in Ypsilanti, I taught as a visiting writer on various University of California campuses.
Translation-wise, since the completion of the Vallejo project, and the Césaire Collected Poetry, I have done a Selected Poems of Michel Deguy, and have involved myself with two Czech poets, Vladimir Holan, and a protégé of his, Milan Exner. With the help of Jan Benda, Frantisek Galan, and Michael Heim, I have done versions from a language I myself do not read—something I would never have done a decade ago. However, after years of translating difficult poets like Vallejo, Césaire, and Artaud, I feel it is possible to do responsible versions with astute cotranslators under such circumstances.
While living in Los Angeles I also began to review for the Los Angeles Times Book Review; between 1979 and 1986 I wrote around fifty reviews, mainly of books that editor Art Seidenbaum sent that I had not requested. Doing such reviews was, in the best sense, doing finger exercises in expository prose, and they led to my writing much more of my own prose in the 1980s than I ever had before: essays on Leon Golub, Vallejo, Artaud, Césaire, Jack Spicer, Allen Ginsberg, Upper Paleolithic art, translation, and the grotesque, all carefully edited by Caryl. I also taped several hours of conversation with the psychologist James Hillman, some of which has been transcribed and published as a dialogue on poetry and psychology. This past winter, I wrote a short book called Novices, reflections on origins, poetic curricula, and the image of the labyrinth, as they might pertain to one who has just begun an apprenticeship to poetry.
While I was Dreyfuss Writer-in-Residence and a lecturer in creative writing at Cal Tech in 1980, I proposed to the chair of the humanities division, Roger Noll, that we start a new literary magazine there, to be called Sulfur. Noll agreed, and helped me launch a magazine I still edit, now in its twentieth issue. Sulfur, among other things, means a bright yellow moth, and is, on that level, an evolution of Caterpillar. As of this date, there are eleven editors and correspondents making up the masthead, and the magazine covers an interdisciplinary range of materials, sensing poetry as a force in a complex field of forces, that is a flowering of the responsibilities of poetry that Yellen, the Hirschmans, and Solt offered me thirty years ago. To their encouragement I should add three phrases I discovered in the late 1950s that have been with me daily ever since: Hart Crane's "to loose yourself within a pattern's mastery which is your own from birth," Robert Duncan's "to exercise his faculties at large," and William Blake's "Never can the soul of sweet delight be defiled."
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ADDENDA, MARCH 2003
Eshleman contributed the following update to CA in 2003.
In August, 1986, my wife Caryl and I purchased a 1919 Craftsman bungalow on Washtenaw Road in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where we continue to live. The house's first floor is oak, and there is an oak-columned hallway. The downstairs windows have oak blinds which do not extend beyond their frames, saving some wall space for our art collection which includes works by Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, Irving Petlin, Marwan, Michel Nedjar, Wallace Berman, Robert Duncan, William Paden, Caryl Eshleman, Jorge Peréz-Roman, Wondjuk (an Australian bark painter) and Joseph Kurhajec, among others. Over the years we have also collected Mexican folk art from the Oaxaca region, much of it pertaining to Day of the Dead ceremonies.
Because our kitchen was old fashioned and not very functional, we renovated it and put in a small restaurant stove. As of this writing, we are about three-quarters of the way through an upstairs bathroom renovation involving a slate floor and shower wall of glass blocks.
Caryl and I share the shopping and the making of desserts. I do the rest of the cooking. We enjoy having friends over for small dinner parties. Over the years, many writers and artists have been our guests (including a ninety-four-year-old Kenneth Burke), along with local friends, such as Jim and Vivian Wanless, Marcia Dalbey and Joanne Verlinden, Jeff and Barbara Duncan, Stephen and Karen Smith, Jim and Jane Kister, Ken and the late Ann Mikolowski, Wendy Frisch, Mark and Utanja Minjnsbergen, Bob and Paola Holkeboer, and the writers in Eastern Michigan University's English Department: Janet Kauffman, Christine Hume, and Christina Milletti. I learned to cook in Los Angeles in the 1970s, mainly out of a book Caryl brought home: Richard Olney's Simple French Cooking. For over a decade I have been on Kermit Lynch's mailing list for his monthly wine brochure. Kermit has imported a wide range of southwestern and southeastern French wines; his tastes and direction have determined much of what comes into our household in the way of wine.
We moved to Ypsilanti because I was offered a professorship in the English Department at Eastern Michigan University, which is a fifteen-minute walk from our home. I arranged to bring Sulfur magazine with me and to have it housed at the university. I was offered "release time" (one course per semester) for the editing of Sulfur, along with a graduate assistant twenty hours weekly.
I was hired to teach junior- and senior-level creativewriting workshops in poetry (and occasionally a graduate level workshop). Along with a poetry workshop, I have almost always also taught an introduction to literature (poetry) lecture course, filled mainly with freshmen and sophomores.
In the poetry workshops I require students to spend one-third of their class time with an anthology or a single author collection. In the junior-level workshop (a beginning course for most students), I assign variations on model poems. Seven to eight poems are required for a semester. To encourage experimentation, I mark the workshopped draft of a poem and then ask the student to revise it, turning both draft and revision in at the semester's end. I then adjust the grade (generally up) on the basis of the revision, and eliminate the grade on the draft. As beginners, students need to have their draft workshopped to get some sense of direction. My grading system takes this into consideration, and virtually all students feel that it is useful and fair. The grade on revisions makes up 75 percent of the final grade, with 25 percent based on workshop participation. In the past, workshop sessions were spontaneous, with students speaking up when they felt like it. Since the late 1990s I have assigned three students to each draft. By doing so I have a keener sense of their contributions and have been able to give a more accurate participation grade.
For the intro to poetry course, I have, for years, used Koch and Farrell's Sleeping on the Wing anthology, Padgett's Handbook of Literary Forms, and my own supplement. Sleeping on the Wing is student-friendly, with an accessible but serious international selection of work by twenty-seven poets. Organized in the 1970s, it is increasingly dated, chronologically speaking—thus the need for a supplement, in which I added more recent poems by anthology poets and also added some younger poets, mainly women.
In the late 1980s Janet Kauffman and I started a visiting-author program called Writers Living and Alive. We raised some start-up money from local textbook stores and then asked our department head and dean to match this money. Over the years we have brought in about fifty writers, generally in groups of two, for two-to-four-day stints. Along with a formal reading, we often ask the writers to meet with students for an informal conversation. Our guests have included Jayne Cortez, Jerome Rothenberg, Kenward Elmslie, Ron Padgett, Amiri Baraka, Rikki Ducornet, Mary Caponegro, C. D. Wright, Carole Maso, Gary Snyder, Adrienne Rich, Michael Palmer, Forrest Gander, Diane Wakoski, Allen Ginsberg, and Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop.
In 1992 the essayist/translator Eliot Weinberger informed me that the dissident Chinese poet Bei Dao would like to come to the United States. I nominated Bei Dao for EMU's McAndless Distinguished Professorship, a three-month chair in the humanities, and he was accepted. Bei Dao arrived at the beginning of the fall 1993 semester and liked the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area so much that he stayed on for three years. Caryl helped him obtain his Green Card, and he became a dear friend.
When Caryl and I arrived at EMU, Sulfur was in its sixteenth issue. We continued to bring it out twice a year until the spring of 2000, when we ended it with issue number 45/46. Caryl was managing editor all along, and became the designer as of issue 37. In Sulfur's forty-six issues, we published over 800 writers and artists in some 11,000 pages.
We ended the magazine for several reasons. We failed to receive a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant in 1997, after having received a $12,000 grant yearly from 1983 on. In 1997 as well, the magazine funding at the NEA was restructured, making it impossible for editors to apply for support unless they were doing a "special issue." While Sulfur did do a few special issues over the years, it seems to me that regular issues are the truest indication of the caliber of any literary magazine. Thus we decided not to create a special issue situation just to apply for NEA funding. Without our yearly $12,000, we were in trouble: we could no longer pay our contributors or our contributing editors, nor could we afford several of our distributors which in the long run cost us more than we made from them. We cut the size of the issues and did smaller press runs for a couple of years, only to realize that Sulfur was in a holding pattern. Since the magazine had accomplished what it had set out to do in 1981, under the circumstances we decided that it was time to end it. Jed Rasula, one of Sulfur's correspondents, and I are now attempting to place a Sulfur anthology of some six hundred pages with a publisher.
As I move into my late sixties, Sulfur is just one of the activities I have chosen to end. I will retire from teaching at EMU this spring. I have also decided to stop translating. I am very proud of my Vallejo Trilce translation (reprinted in 2000 by Wesleyan University Press) and my cotranslation of Aimé Césaire's Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (revised and reformatted from the 1983 University of California Press Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry, and published in 2001). For many years I spent as much time translating as I did writing poetry and prose. I did so not only as a service to the literary community, but as a way to feed the magical coals of foreign writers—whose backgrounds differed dramatically from my own—into my own furnace. Over the past year, I have assembled all of the translations that I consider to be first-rate (and that are not contained in the single author collections) into a new version of Conductors of the Pit, with the subtitle: "Poetry in extremis in Translation." I revised my early Neruda versions and wrote an essay about doing so (which is included, along with two other essays on translating as Appendices to this collection).
Along with editing Sulfur, which involved around fifteen hours weekly, I have had another long-term project over the years, addressed in this Addenda: research and fieldwork on an investigation that culminated in 1999 with Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld. This investigation is based on the Ice Age painted and engraved caves of southwestern France, some fifty of which Caryl and I visited and revisited over a period of twenty-five years. In the first installment of my Contemporary Authors autobiography, I explained how Caryl and I discovered the caves for ourselves when we visited the French Dordogrie for the first time in the spring of 1974. At the end of that summer, I decided to commit myself to an open-ended investigation of Cro-Magnon image-making and possibly the roots of poetry, unsure of how long it would take or where it would lead. By the time we arrived in Ypsilanti in 1986, I had accumulated several hundred pages of poems, essays, and notes, with an intuition of why the image-making took place when and where it did. In his introduction to The Name Encanyoned River, my Selected Poems 1960-1985, Eliot Weinberger grasped the core and the scope of what I had taken on:
The invention of the historical other has become almost programmatic in twentieth-century American poetry; for Pound, ancient China; for H. D., classical Greece; for Olson, Mesopotamia; for Snyder, the Neolithic. Eshleman has pushed the historical back about as far as it can go: to the Upper Paleolithic, and the earliest surviving images made by humans. As a result of his literal and imaginative explorations of the painted and gouged caves, Eshleman has constructed a myth, perhaps the first compelling post-Darwinian myth: that the Paleolithic represents the "crisis" of the human "separating out" of the animal, the original birth and original fall of man. From that moment, human history spins out: from the repression of the animal within to the current extinction of the animals without; the inversion from matriarchy to patriarchy, and the denial of the feminine; the transformation of the fecund underworld into the Hell of suffering; and the rising of Hell, in the twentieth century, to the surface of the earth: Dachau, Hiroshima. The poet's journey is an archetypal scenario of descent and rebirth: he has traveled to the origins of humanness to reach the millennium, end and beginning.
I had also come to realize that cave imagery is an inseparable mix of psychic constructs and perceptive observations. That is, that there are "fantastic" animals as well as realistic ones. There are not only human figures representing men and women whose social roles cannot be determined, but others, with bird masks, bison heads, and peculiar wounds, that evoke an interior world, in some cases, shamanism. Instead of solely employing rational documentation (as have the archeologists), it struck me that this "inseparable mix" might be approached using poetic imagination as well as thorough fieldwork and research.
Thus, in the writing of Juniper Fuse I sought to be open to what I thought about and fantasized while in the caves or while meditating on their image environments—to create my own truth as to what they mean, respecting imagination as one of a plurality of conflicting possibilities. I also sought to be a careful observer, and to reflect on what others have written, photographed, and drawn. Sometimes a section is all poetry, sometimes all prose—at other times, it is a shifting combination like a Calder mobile, with poetry turning into prose, prose turning into poetry.
The chronological unfolding of Juniper Fuse also has cave-like aspects. I never followed a recipe, and worked hard not to constrict the writing into an elaboration of a single intuition or thesis. I wanted the book to be as multifoliate as the image-making that it is focused on. I realized that I was nearing the end of my project in the spring of 1997 when at long last I gained permission to climb down into the Lascaux Shaft and view its extraordinary "scene" with my own eyes. Standing there, I knew that I was not only at the end of Lascaux but very near the end of the investigation I had started shortly after Caryl and I, thanks to H. L. Movius, Jr., a Harvard paleo-archeologist who had been excavating a rock shelter in Les Eyzies for many years, visited Lascaux for the first of seven times in the spring of 1974.
As an offshoot of cave research, Caryl and I have led a small tour to the Dordogne six times. Initially, in the 1980s, we organized small groups on our own, mainly to get back to the cave region (caves have their own personalities, and often the physical setting is so spectacular and imposing that the painted and delicately engraved images are difficult to focus on). We took seven people in 1981, and fourteen in 1983. Doing publicity on our own was a lot of work, so we stopped after the second tour. We did, however, seek travel-writing assignments and ended up writing together a half-dozen articles for such magazines as Diversions, Destinations, Pan Am Clipper, and Frequent Flyer on caves, hotels, and restaurants in our research areas.
In the mid-1990s I was approached by the head of continuing education at EMU and asked if I had any overseas study ideas. I mentioned the Dordogne tour, it caught on, and EMU sponsored a tour in 1996, with poet Gary Snyder coming along as guest lecturer. We hired Paris-based Mathilde Sitbon as our French assistant, met the group in Paris where we spent several days (taking them to the National Prehistory Museum outside of Paris), and then, on our private bus, we traveled south for seven hours to Les Eyzies where we spent the next ten days at Hotel Cro-Magnon (earlier our home away from home and owned by our friends Christiane and Jacques Leyssales), built against the limestone wall containing the rock shelter, Abri du Cro-Magnon, where the skeletons of our direct ancestors were discovered in 1868. We visited seven of the painted and engraved caves after I gave a lecture on each. We also visited the Regional Prehistory Museum in Les Eyzies (which has now been enlarged to three times its former size), a foie gras farm, village markets, and a few of the beautiful villages that cluster at the edge of the Dordogne River. Since 2000 the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota has sponsored our tour each June.
Over the past sixteen years, I have been more active as a poet, translator, essayist, editor, and reader/lecturer than ever before. Since 1996 I have also enjoyed a regular correspondence with the poet Adrienne Rich (that goes beyond the flurries of messages exchanged via e-mail or faxes with such writers as John Olson, Dale Smith, J. J. Blickstein, Peter Blegvad, Christine Hume, Pierre Joris, Gary Snyder, Ron Padgett, and Michel Deguy, to name a few). I knew Adrienne in NYC in the late 1960s but fell out of contact with her in the early 1970s when she became fully engaged by feminism. In 1994 a mutual close friend, the painter Nora Jaffe, died of lung cancer and I wrote a requiem for her called Nora's Roar, published by the Rodent Press in Boulder in 1996. After receiving a copy of the poem, Adrienne wrote me a letter that instantaneously put us back in contact. Over the past six years, we have exchanged letters more or less biweekly, often showing each other works-in-progress. We have commented on each other's work honestly and kept the exchange old-fashioned (letters through the mail, no fax or e-mail). Adrienne's friendship (she also wrote a foreword to my 2002 collection of essays, Companion Spider) has meant a great deal to me. Her comments on my poems-in-progress have made me a more careful reader of my own work. In my opinion, such is one of the finest gifts any writer can give to another. In comparison, most literary criticism seems detached and abstract.
My other close reader has been, for much longer than Adrienne, my wife Caryl who, as best as I can recall, began to read and comment on drafts of poems in Paris, the autumn of 1973 (specifically, I recall her going over a version of "A Portrait of Chaim Soutine" with me at a sidewalk café on the Boulevard St.Germain in September of that year). I have commented on Caryl's role in my composition process in the first installment of this autobiography. Here it is significant to add that her comments on the "middle passage" of a work (that area between the first and final draft in which the most extensive rewriting takes place) have continued to keep me from taking things for granted, or impulsively siding with the mistaken Ginsberg motto "First thought, best thought." To a considerable extent, the art of poetry is the art of revisioning that which does not go all the way, of seeing through it, of pushing threshold images into bold and full-blown ones, of closing the infernal discrepancy between intention and actual presence.
I have also learned that if I attempt to revise a poem immediately after doing a first draft that I will ruin it (and in this situation, Ginsberg's motto makes much
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more sense: there is a reactionary component in my mind that is stimulated by attempting to finalize a process that has yet to percolate through psyche). Over the past decade, I have done a first draft, then turned it over, and let the pile of drafts collect for at least six months before returning to them. At that point, I try to see the draft as if it were written by somebody else. It is as if, subconsciously, my mind has been working on that poem over the months after the first draft was done, enabling me to see aspects of it for the first time.
By cutting myself loose from magazine editing, translating, and teaching I hope to clear time to focus solely upon my own poetry and the research it often involves. For years, I have collected materials on Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (which I have envisioned as a potential film scenario) and Mayan culture (mainly rituals and glyphs). I am aware that there is a big disconnect between research and psychic delivery. The poem does not neatly arrive at the end of one's planned reading.
Not long ago I had a complicated experience with a Caravaggio research project. I got support from EMU to go to Valletta, Malta, for a week to study one of the painter's masterpieces, "The Beheading of John the Baptist." In preparation for the trip, I read a half-dozen books on Caravaggio and planned to write on the painting upon our return from Europe. Before doing so, I decided that I should look into one more book on the painter—M / The Man Who Became Caravaggio, by Peter Robb—that I had bypassed earlier while under the impression that it was part fiction, part fact. The Robb book turned out to be so good that it overwhelmed my own project. It went deeper into Caravaggio's life and work than any of the academic studies and brought across his courageous, complex and doomed life with passion and precision. I read M twice, then waited a year before attempting my own piece. I worked out a twelve-page prose poem which I showed to Caryl. She said: "This is an essay, not the poem." So I began to break it down, line by line, working through the decapitation syndrome that pervades Caravaggio's body of work. After several weeks, I ended up with a seven-page poem called "The Beheading" that I could live with.
A final direction that I would like my poetry to take involves an assimilation of the American government's overseas interventions over the past fifty years. This investigation was triggered by the 9-11 catastrophe. In asking myself why "they" would do that to us, I found myself, on one hand, contesting the "official" version of the events of September 11, and, on the other hand, via books like William Blum's Killing Hope and Nafeez Ahmed's The War on Freedom, uncovering the dark side of our government's foreign policies beginning with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I would like to build a consciousness of this background into my language—not simply write old-fashioned "political" poems, but find a way to turn the poem into a mind that includes the increasingly imperial American "crusade" as part of its language environment. So much American poetry strikes me as irrelevant to our times and so obsessed with the writer's own sensitivity that the power and peril we actually live in hardly gets in at all. As I move into my own version of "late style," I want a writing that will give off an odor of America in the world at the beginning of the twenty-first century. This is, for an American poet, the most daunting task I am presently aware of.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Christensen, Paul, Minding the Underworld: ClaytonEshleman and Late Postmodernism, Black Sparrow (Los Angeles, CA), 1991.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 7, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1977.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: AmericanPoets since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
Sattler, Martha, Clayton Eshleman: An Annotated Bibliography, McFarland & Co. (Jefferson, NC), 1988.
Agenda, December, 1994, William Harmer, "The Diverse Poetics of Clayton Eshleman."
American Book Review, May-June, 1982, Donald Wesling, review of Hades in Manganese; September-October, 1990, Dawn Kolokithas, "Closer to the Moderns"; June, 1996, Kenneth Warren, "Spinal Traffic"; December-January, 1996-97, John Olson,"On-Site Inspection"; May-June, 1999, John Olson, review of From Scratch, p. 22.
American Poetry, volume 3, 1984, Diane Wakoski, "The Visionary Poetry of Clayton Eshleman."
American Poetry Review, July-August, 1973.
Bluefish, spring, 1984, Paul Christensen, "Back to the Mind Cradles," and David Rattray, review of Antonin Artaud: Four Texts.
Choice, January, 1990, L. Berk, review of Novices AStudy of Poetic Apprenticeship; March, 1991, A. J. Guillaume, Jr., review of Lyric and Dramatic Poetry, 1946-82.
Commonweal, June 15, 1984, Steven Philip Kramer, review of Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry,p. 382.
Contact, spring, 1990, Jim Lang, "Turning the Mind-Rock: An Antiphonal Exchange with Clayton Eshleman," and Rochelle Owens, review of Conductors of the Pit: Major Words by Rimbaud, Vallejo, C'saire, Artaud, and Holan.
Contemporary Literature, winter, 1975; summer, 1996, Keith Tuma, "An Interview with Clayton Eshleman."
Denver Quarterly, Volume 7, number 2, John Olson, "Notes from the Underworld"; summer, 1991, Janet Bowdan, "Eshleman and the Art of Spelunking the Skeleton," Taffy Martin, review of Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose 1962-1987.
Flashpoint, summer, 1996, Carlos Parcelli, "Epiphany and Closure," p. 89.
House Organ, 1994, Kenneth Warren, review of HotelCro-Magnon; 2003, Kenneth Warren, review of Companion Spider.
Hudson Review, spring, 1970.
Journal of Modern Literature, fall/winter, 1988-89, review of Conductors of the Pit, p. 195.
Library Journal, November 1, 1983, Peter Sabor, review of Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry, 1939-1976, pp. 2086-2087; January, 2002, David Kirby, review of Companion Spider: Essays,p. 101.
Literary Magazine Review, fall, 1987, Brian C. Clark, "Sulfur."
Manoa, spring, 1992, Gene Frumkin, review of HotelCro-Magnon, Conductors of the Pit, Antiphonal Swing, The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960-1985, Fracture, and Hades in Manganese.
Nation, April 24, 1967.
New Republic, July 12, 1993, Christopher Maurer, "Through a Verse Darkly."
New York Times Book Review, March 23, 1969, M. L. Rosenthal, review of Human Poems; February 1, 1972, Paul Zweig, review of The Gull Wall; February 13, 1972, Hayden Carruth, "Altars and a Caterpillar Anthology"; February 1, 1976; October 11, 1981, Paul Zweig, review of Hades in Manganese, p. 32; February 19, 1984, Serge Gavronsky, "Black Themes in Surreal Guise"; August 26, 1990, Doug Anderson, review of Antiphonal Swing: Selected Prose 1962-1987, p. 15.
North Dakota Quarterly, spring, 1994-95, Michael Spiering, review of Under World Arrest.
Poetry, April, 1968, review of Lachrymae Mateo:Three Poems for Christmas, 1966; June, 1969, review of Indiana.
Publishers Weekly, July 13, 1992, review of Trilce,p. 51; August 29, 1994, review of Under World Arrest; November 20, 1995, review of Watchfiends and Rack Screams, p. 71; January 28, 2002, review of Companion Spiders, p. 284.
Rain Taxi, spring, 1999, Eric Lorberer, "An Interview with Clayton Eshleman."
Research in African Literature, winter, 1984, Emile Snyder, review of Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry.
Review: Latin American Literature and Arts, January-June, 1991, Roberto Marquez, review of Lyric and Dramatic Poetry 1946-1982.
Temblor, Volume 6, 1987, Paul Christensen, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Jed Rasula, James Hillman, Gerald Burns, Karin Lessing, "Six Writers on Eshleman."
Times Literary Supplement, July 23, 1993, Jason Wilson, review of Trilce.
Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1983, A. James Arnold, review of Hades in Manganese.
Waste Paper, February, 1993, Duane Davis, "Inventing Madness, an Interview with Clayton Eshleman."
West Coast Line, fall, 1995, Ralph Maud, "On Clayton Eshleman."
World Literature Today, summer, 1995, James McElroy, review of Under World Arrest; summer, 1999, Susan Smith Nash, review of From Scratch.
Eastern Michigan University,http://www.emich.edu/ (April 2, 2003).